By Susie Kroll
I admit it. I am willing to admit it. I watched The Real Housewives of New Jersey. In this particular episode, a 17-year old girl has hit the point in time when her mother wants to have the “talk” with her. The mother brings up this idea to her husband. The father basically states that the girl is a baby and they don’t need to have that conversation with her. The 17-year old girl is getting ready for a winter formal dance. The father asked the mother if her parents gave her that “talk” when she was their daughter’s age. The mother says, “No.” But she also makes the comment to her husband that times are different from when she was growing up. The father then says that this isn’t something to bother talking about since the daughter is going to be a virgin until she is married. The mother saying that she hopes that is what will happen but she still feels like the talk is necessary. The husband is very resistant to the discussion and the wife then makes a comment that she should have never brought up the topic and just talked to the daughter on her own. In a different episode, he even got in some guys face that tried to dance with his daughter at a New Year’s Party. He said his only job was to protect his baby from men like that. How long does he think he can keep that up before he has to teach her how to be responsible for herself and her needs? I have a couple of opinions about what I saw in this episode.
First, let me say that I was screaming at the TV, as if I could somehow affect the outcome of what I was seeing. Let me also say that it ignited a fury of emotions in me as well. The Kaiser Family foundation conducted at study in 2009 and one of their findings was that 46% of high school students had already had sex. That is almost half of high school students! High school usually starts in 9th grade. I was 14-15 when I started high school. The daughter on the show is 17. So somewhere between 14-18, 46% of teens are sexually active. While she seems like a teen that has her act together, it was incredibly naïve of the father to think that a discussion about sex and relationships isn’t necessary. 17 is too late (but better than never) to have this discussion with their daughter. His daughter may not have the intention of sleeping around or sleeping with someone in the near future but being prepared and knowing what his daughter is thinking is much more powerful and important that deluding himself into thinking that these thoughts haven’t crossed her mind. I am not discounting that it might be an uncomfortable subject but parts of life are darn uncomfortable. As a parent, you signed up for all of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uncomfortable. The father, during an in-episode interview couldn’t even say sex, he had to spell it out. If he isn’t comfortable with the idea of saying the word, how can he assume that the daughter is or isn’t? He is making a bunch of assumptions about his daughter.
First, even the best of teens don’t tell their parents everything. To the daughter’s credit, she seems mature and seems to have a good head on her shoulders but even the smartest teen doesn’t know everything about sex and relationships. Really?! Most adults don’t either. This is readily evident by the other “housewives” on the show.
Her mother had the right idea and I have to give her credit for wanting to talk to her daughter if only to touch base and reinforce their family values and check in with her daughter and where she is mentally. The mom and daughter, in a later scene, are dress shopping for the winter formal. The mother makes comments on various dresses as her daughter tries them on. Finally, the daughter picks a dress and, again I am screaming at the TV. The dress was floor length, fitted, strapless, and mermaid cut. Nothing about the dress was too revealing with the exception that it showed her daughter’s figure as it was a very fitted dress. The mother took that moment to talk to her daughter about what that kind of dress says. She said that it was a sexy dress and put a message out there to the world. While I believe it was a necessary discussion and that it needed to happen, the dress shop was not the appropriate venue for said discussion. Okay, back to why I was screaming. The mother said that dress is sexy and it will attract a certain type of attention. In no way shape or form does the way a teen or adult dresses indicate or ask for certain things to happen to them. The way someone dresses does not make it okay for someone to be assaulted sexually or have unwanted sexual advances happen to them. I did not like that the mother ways inferring that how her daughter dressed made her somehow responsible for the attention whether negative or positive she received. Sure the dress was fitted and “sexy” and it probably would make a teenage boy stare. Let’s be real, teenage boys would stare at a girl with a sack over her head. It is called teenage hormones. Parents can build a wall around their children but eventually they will climb over it. It is so much better to prepare them from life, relationships, and sex rather than thinking you can keep them from them until they are married.
Kudos to mom for wanting to talk to her daughter about sex and boys. Kudos to mom for having the talk even though the dad was resistant and basically in denial that it needed to happen. Mild fail to the mom for not having done some research about how, when, and where to have this conversation with her daughter. Epic fail to the dad for thinking that his daughter has a perfect handle on relationships, sex, and what a healthy relationship looks like at the age of 17. Epic fail to the dad for failing to protect his daughter by supporting his wife and preparing his daughter for the eventuality of a relationship and/or sex, whether it happens before or after she is married. Epic fail to both parents for exposing their daughter and her fragile youth to the damages of being on reality TV.
Knowing about healthy relationships and sex doesn’t automatically pop into your head once you are married. Married doesn’t equal “Everything is healthy and safe now.” I know plenty of adults that are in very unhealthy marriages and relationships. So when do they learn about it? How about we all start early and teach proactively instead of reactively!
While I do not think that the “Real Housewives” franchise is the best indicator of how teens learn about relationships and sex, I do realize that if we aren’t teaching our teens and tweens where are they going to learn? From their peers? From the media? From reality TV? If not you, then who? Do you want to take the chance that their best relationship/sex model and lessons comes from one of those? I hope not.
Susie Kroll is available for presentations and workshops in your school or organization. Learn more about Susie at www.susiekroll.com and read her blog Teach Our Teens & Save Their Lives