Being a teenager has never been easy, no matter the decade. An adolescent has to navigate hormonal and physical changes, acne, friendships, dating and schoolwork, among other things. But add in the challenges that come from the technology available now in the "teens of the century," and life can be nerve-wracking and sometimes just scary. It can be tough, too, for young people to talk to their parents, worrying that they might disappoint them, upset them or not be understood.
Here are just seven questions your teen may want answers to but might be too afraid to ask you.
Is this new bodily function (of puberty) normal?
A girl might be wondering about discharge from her vagina (likely normal, but some types could indicate an infection), or both boys and girls could be unsure about hair growth in new places. They might be noticing they smell different. It's time to up the hygiene practices.
Does ___ count as sex?
Considering that public figures engage in various sexual activities but don't name them as "sex," young people are likely pretty confused about what counts as sex. Their peers, who are testing the waters and sharing their experiences, are very likely not going to know the right answer, either. A parent or trusted adult such as an extended family member or school counselor would be able to provide the most accurate and considered answer, if the teen were to just ask.
Is porn really that bad?
Pornography today is readily available, and children can easily see it just by searching with seemingly innocuous terms and clicking on the wrong link. And barely clothed celebrities can be seen on broadcast TV, social media and magazines. With sexualized imagery everywhere, young people can be easily confused about the dangers of pornographic images. As fightthenewdrug.org explains, porn actually rewires the brain, can adversely affect real relationships and can even lead to violence. Yes, it is that bad.
Parents can take some steps to protect their children from these negative effects of pornography, including using filters or apps, and educating their kids about how to search more safely and how to react if a site pops up, for instance.
Does sending a picture of me in underwear count as sexting?
As kidshealth.org defines it, "sexting (or 'sex texting') is the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images, messages, or video via a cellphone or the internet." It can include just text messages that "propose sex or refer to sex acts;" it could be photos or selfies that show the teen nude or "nearly nude" (so, yes, wearing only underwear in a photo would be considered sexting), or videos of nudity of sex acts.
Is this mean post on social media bullying?
Any bullying that happens via "electronic technology" is cyberbullying, according to stopbullying.gov. It can be done through social media, text messages, websites or chats, and on cell phones, tablets or desktop or laptop computers. Bullying could be a mean social media post or multiple teens spreading nasty rumors or sharing embarrassing pictures online or through text messages. Whether your teen is the culprit or the victim, take action by monitoring your teen's online behavior by using the WebSafety app, or reporting bullying to proper authorities.
Are you proud of me?
Teens are in a difficult period of their lives where their self-esteem may be taking some hits. So it's even possible for them to wonder if their parents are proud of them and the kind of people they are. It may be the hardest question for them to ask. Be proactive and take the time to tell your teen specifically what you are proud of him or her for, whether it's a kind heart, selfless actions or hard work and discipline to achieve a goal.
If I did ___, would it disappoint you?
The corollary to the above concern is worrying whether a certain behavior or mistake would make a teen's parents profoundly disappointed. And disappointment in one mistake could seem like a deal-breaker in a young person's mind. Parents can reassure that love is unconditional and help a teen work through what might be a small mistake or bigger problem.
Even when teens know their parents love them, it can be tough for them to speak up to ask tricky questions. Be available and be ready to listen, and don't be afraid to ask for help (from trusted friends, church leaders or specialists) if you need it, too.