Thursday, October 18, 2012

It smelled like sex...

Our conversation about pretty dresses and cute photo op's got real very quickly.  The dresses were too short and the necklines were too low.  The music was loud and the heat was stifling, the images flashing on the DJ installed video screens were trashy and the grinding on the dance floor was embarrassing. There were thongs showing (not flip flops!) and guys undressing like Chippendale Dancers.
But the comment that kept ringing in my ears was that 'It smelled like sex.'

Ugh...these comments were not made by attendees at an over 21 nightclub, these were snippets of real conversations I had with teens following their experiences at several different homecoming dances.

If you haven't talked in-depth to a teen about their recent homecoming experience, you're missing a wide open door into the life of your teen.  I had lulled myself into the comatose cloud of remembering a high school dance as a fun chance to get dressed up, take pictures and sway with my husband (we were high school sweethearts) to 'Heaven' by Bryan Adams.   Those images were not what I visualized when the girls began talking. 

The common link that I kept replaying in my head days after our conversations, was that they were all laced with an attitude of defeat.  These girls knew that the music was not good, they were embarrassed by the risque grinding on the dance floor and they were grossed out by the sexual energy pulsing through the gym, but they felt powerless to change it.  No one was willing to give up the memory of a milestone dance or dress shopping or fun with friends despite the awkward "junk" they knew was part of the dance.

Please don't think that i am suggesting that teens should boycott these dances or avoid secular music, however,  I am suggesting that parents must be clear with their teens about what their boundaries should be.  I've talked before about my very vocal approach to defining what your "lines" will be in a dating relationship.  Parents must also have discussions of "lines" with exposure to media, technology, relationships and general communication with their kids.

These discussions cannot begin in the dressing room surrounded by 15 cocktail dresses.  They must begin in the tween years.  Just as the high school girls accepted the behavior at the dances with a quiet attitude of defeat, many parents are adopting that same attitude long before high school begins.  The constant tension and forced conversations about sassy comebacks and disrespect with tweens are exhausting.  Who wants to fight with their kid everyday with little perceived results?  It seems impossible to break through and your only desire becomes to keep the peace.

Yet staying silent and allowing behavior that you know is unacceptable does not keep the peace long-term.  Apathy about how to approach these issues is perceived by our kids as acceptance.  Why do we go to such great lengths to install car seats, find the best diaper rash cream and advanced preschools for our toddlers, but when they really begin resisting our involvement in the tween years we give up the fight in search of peace?  Are we tired?  If that's the case, we better rest up because our generation will be raising our grandkkids in less 5 years.

Now is not the time to rest.  Begin talking and listening.  Listen to their tone of voice, listen when they want to share something you perceive as insignificant, it's a test to see if they can trust you with something bigger.  The majority of conversations our teens have are via text and Facebook.   With less talking, parents must become more diligent than ever to actively listen to their spoken tones and inflections. 

Teens are spending far more time sculpting their images via social media than they are face to face with their peer groups.  If they are not holding back on what they post on their profiles or what they view on their "friends" pages, how can we expect them to hold back on how they present themselves in person?  As their  virtual image surpasses the value that any fashion accessory might bring to their appearance, the stakes are higher than ever.  Just as the homecoming dance generated a smell of sex and promiscuity, have you had conversations with your teen about the "smell" of their electronic profile or the scent of their lack of modesty?

Whether you are holding back talking about "lines" to your teens due to awkwardness or out of fear that you will expose them to something they may not already have heard about, you are taking on the role of a spectator when you need to be coaching on the field.  My daughter went round and round with me this week begging me to tell her why I "have to care so much."  If that's her rational complaint about our restrictions, game on.


  1. Totally relevant Emily! Thanks for the encouragement to keep plugging away. Even though sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just ignore this horrible behavior my 12 year old has I will pay dearly for it later if I don't "man up"!

  2. As a teacher chaperoning that jr. High dance I was reaching in to separate these Tweens who were growing aware too early. The lure of media and peers make girls want to follow fashion and behavior that is just too suggestive. Even in the afternoon, the lights were low. Time to have these fun lines where you follow the guy on stage and just have fun. The experimentation can wait.