It's so important to keep the lines of communication open.
In many ways, this century is a very different world from the one 20th century children grew up in. Since the internet came online in the early nineties, children and youth have had growing access to a wide variety of information, including sexually explicit content. This means that many young people - in and out of care - are getting their sex education from the internet and from the popular culture, which has become increasingly graphic and violent. As a result, many young people have very different attitudes about sex than their foster parents and caregivers.
There may be some comfort in remembering that every generation of adults since the turn of the 20th century have believed the younger generation is doomed in the ways they are different from their parents. So far, that hasn’t happened.
With high rates of sexual violence in the general population, it can feel like there are so many reasons to be afraid for young people. Foster parents providing input to LEAP21 described feeling overwhelmed and alone in trying to navigate in a society that has become so highly sexualized, and with young people who have already experienced so much trauma. How do we protect and support the healthy development of youth when sex is everywhere and sexual violence is so commonplace?
What remains constant from the last century to this one - is the basic human need for love, support and acceptance. Supporting young people, accepting who they are, and keeping the lines of communication open are the best strategies for their success.
Listen to Gabor Mate speak about role of trauma and attachment
Believing that we are all capable of being kind, generous and loving is a good way to orient ourselves in creating the best possible conditions for those qualities to grow. Hold the focus on a young person's strengths and their ability to survive and even thrive amidst the challenges.
There’s no better resource than a supportive caregiver. You don’t need to be an expert, you just need to be willing to talk AND listen. The open, non-judgmental conversations you have with young people about sex, puberty, bodies, and relationships will help them stay safe and healthy as they grow up.
One thing for certain, we can’t put the genie back in the bottle. You can’t make children un-see what they have seen, or un-experience what they have experienced. It’s up to the adults to inform themselves and adjust to keep relationships going. Keeping the relationships going - that is the primary goal. Young people absolutely have to have supportive adults in their lives if they are to overcome the tough stuff.
As foster parents and caregivers, we have a responsibility to do everything we can to support children and youth's healthy development - physically, emotionally, intellectually, socially and as sexual beings. Foster parent advisors to Leap21 told many stories of taking steps to keep the relationship going. According to them, it is possible to maintain your beliefs and values AND support and accept a young person, even when you don’t agree with their choices.
And... we don’t actually know what it will mean for young people over the course of their lives to be exposed to sexual content so often and so early. They are a different generation who are questioning 20th century morals and values. Maybe they will be the ones to help build a new society that is grounded in social justice. Hope for the future is tonic for us all.
Acceptance and support helps:
- protect against depression, suicidal behavior and substance use
- promote self-esteem, social support, and overall health
The Family Acceptance Project
We know that adult support is critical for young people. One caring, affirming adult can make a huge difference in how a young person fares in the world. There is research and tools that can help the 20th century born make the leap into a 21st century understanding of sex, sexuality and sexual violence. Finding support for youself as a caregiver is a good strategy. You are not alone. Parenting is one of the most important and challenging jobs on the planet. Your love and acceptance can help a young person face life and overcome their challenges. Even when you think nothing you do makes a difference - it does.
Lisa Bunnage talks about the unsexy truth about hook-up culture
Lisa Osherow talks about creating a consent culture that starts with talking to kids about sex.
Dr. V. Chandra-Mouli from the World Health Organization talks about the importance of talking to young people about sex and sexuality