Sex is such an interesting subject. We mostly agree it’s a good thing. Procreation aside, as parents we tend to think of sex as a delicious way to express and extend our love and intimacy together.
But how about our kids having sex?
Some of us would like to put them in a chastity belt and throw away the key for a decade or so. Not gonna happen. Some of us imagine that our teens aren’t doing anything sexual – because they tell us they’re not. These are not our finest parenting moments, the times when we willfully (but perhaps unconsciously) choose to forget that all teenagers lie to their parents about the things they’re doing that they know we don’t want them to do.
Every generation lies to their parents. We sure did. Don’t you remember?
This would not be such a big problem if kids’ relationship to sex had not changed so profoundly in the last 15 years. Because movies, TV and of course the internet have flooded kids’ lives with sexual imagery, they enter puberty flooded with expectations of becoming sexually active by age 13. They go to lipstick parties (!!), they hook up at the drop of a hat, and they become adept at doing all this (and more) behind the grownups’ backs. “Looking for an empty” being their argot for finding someone’s parent-free house on a Saturday night – for drugs, alcohol and sex.
This is a problem – and a big one.
Because the powerful combo platter of peer pressure and media modelling push teens into sexual activity that a) they’re not ready for and b) is not embedded in a caring relationship. They do it because it’s uncool not to; and there is nothing more important to adolescents than belonging.
This gives camps an incredible opportunity to do the right thing. “Cabin-hopping” is endemic in sleepover camps, and silently condoned at many. Why? Cause it’s fun! If it includes 13-year-old girls giving blow jobs, what the staff don’t know doesn’t hurt them.
To which I say NO! Camp is a golden opportunity to give kids a break from pressures to be sexual and to attract each other, just like they get a break from their iPhones and Minecraft. Hence our camp rules – no primping, no hair straightening, no provocative clothes, no makeup, no sneaking out and no sex. It’s a code of conduct that lets kids be kids, and we enforce it with commitment. These are boundaries that protect them from the pressure to dress like hookers on the stroll, and also protect them from doing things they’re not ready for.
The girls get to kvetch about the no makeup rule. They all get to kvetch about not being allowed to cabin-hop. Kvetching is fun for teens. This is in teenage DNA – because adolescents desperately need to push up against firm clear boundaries: The wall – the limits to their behaviour – contains them and makes them feel safe. Complaining about it, pushing against it, is part of the adolescent developmental mandate. Kids who don’t have the safety of that “wall” feel like they’re careening in space – not a safe feeling. We all know kids in that situation, and we feel sad for them.
Our code of conduct at camp gives them the safety they need. They have their crushes (normal!) and they get the thrill of a hurried furtive kiss – without the pressure to go farther, to go down a road they’re not ready to travel. That’s the best Valentine we can give our adolescents.
A Valentine's Day gift to our children - No sex at summer camp