By Dr. Meg Meeker
Here’s the problem. You’re as young as 14 or maybe as old as 17. If you start having sex now, chances are excellent that you’ll become another statistic in the epidemic. You’ll get an STD—or two or three. You may put yourself at higher risk for depression as well. And the development of your sexuality? Your masculinity may be fashioned after what you saw in television characters rather than what you’ve observed among the real (non-television) men around you.
Why, then, when that same child turns 10, would a parent allow him to see movies appropriate for 14- to 17-year-olds? Or let 8-year-olds watch television programs that aren’t even appropriate for high school seniors? We know this activity is harmful to them. One study found that more than three out of four Americans felt that the way TV programs show sex encourages irresponsible sexual behavior.
It was Cosmopolitan. I asked her if it contained any worthwhile articles. She replied that she’d just bought it. She really hadn’t read it yet. She glanced at the cover, giggled, and started reading titles: “Seven Bad-Girl Bedroom Moves You Must Master,” “Erotic Tips to...” She stopped, blushing with embarrassment.
I know that many of you mothers are just like I am when it comes to disciplining children – you’re kind of a wimp. You just don’t want to do it because you are afraid your kids won’t like you. Or you could be feeling that you discipline all of the time and what you’re doing never works. No matter what you do, your kids just won’t listen to you.
Watching Target change signage in their stores reminds me of many interactions I’ve had with teenagers over the years trying to persuade them not to buckle to peer pressure.
Mothers view sons differently than they do their daughters. They have an instinctual desire to preserve their son’s masculinity and this means preserving the perception that her son is physically and mentally strong. She will never allow him to be at the bottom of the pecking order.
There is a world of difference between a mother having a healthy emotional connection with her son, and a son becoming so emotionally reliant on his mother that he becomes the prototypical boy who is overly dependent upon his mother—a “mama’s boy.”
Though estrangement is the flip side of enmeshment, it is often the result of the same causes: divorce, single motherhood, or a history of sexual abuse. In this case, it causes a mother to feel estranged from her son simply because he is male.
When a son enters a mother’s life, many feelings from her own childhood are triggered. As she swaddles her new son and pulls him towards her chest, he becomes a catalyst for the eruption of emotions that may have been repressed many years earlier. This isn’t his fault. This is the normal and often healthy reaction of a parent.
The reality of a mother’s love is that it sometimes comes out sideways. Mothers are often tired, manipulated, and they make mistakes. They scream when they mean to apologize. They feel guilty that they have to work rather than stay at home with their children. They worry about all the things that can go wrong.
Studies reveal that most women talk about twice as much as men over the course of the day. Women are expressive, and that expressiveness helps mothers become the emotional connector within a family.
Because a mother can see through a gnarled physique, a low IQ, a beast-like temper, or a chronic disease right to the soul of her son, she can spot the beauty within him, which allows her to love him.
Mothers embody pride for sons and daughters from the moment they are born. They are proud because the child belongs to them, but beyond that defensive ownership a mother feels pride for her son because he is male.
In our sophisticated, electronics-saturated, post-modern culture, the threats to a boy’s health are insidious and terribly elusive. So good mothers keep their eyes wide open and their ears alert.
A mother may disapprove of her son’s behavior, girlfriend, sports, or music, but she will always love him.
Beneath the ethereal joy a mother feels at the first sight of her son, lies a nugget-sized ache wrapped in fear. Her infant son needs her. She loves him unconditionally. But she also feels the ache of knowing that he will grow into a man and leave, and one day belong to another.
Men, good men: We need you. We—mothers, daughters, and sisters—need your help to raise healthy young women. We need every ounce of masculine courage and wit you own, because fathers, more than anyone else, set the course for a daughter’s life.
Every day, 21,000 teens will become infected with a new STD. In fact, a British study found that almost half of all girls are likely to become infected with an STD during their very first sexual experience. We have a serious problem on our hands.
As a doctor I can probe, culture, prescribe antibiotics, and aggressively treat and track contagious STDs. But depression is different. It’s more elusive, yet equally, if not more, dangerous. It can come and go, or it can settle in, making itself so comfortable in an adolescent’s psyche that it’s nearly impossible to extricate.
Whatever one’s personal view, your son wants to know—and needs to know—why he’s here, what his purpose in life is, why he is important. Boys who don’t have a well-grounded understanding on these big questions are the most vulnerable to being led astray into self-destructive behaviors.
Connect With Dr. Meg Meeker
Visit Dr. Meeker's Resource Page
Pediatrician, mother and best-selling author of six books, Dr. Meg Meeker is the country’s leading authority on parenting, teens and children’s health.
Dr. Meg writes with the know-how of a pediatrician and the big heart of a mother because she has spent the last 25 years practicing pediatric and adolescent medicine while also helping parents and teens to communicate more deeply about difficult topics such as sex, STDs and teen pregnancy. Her work with countless families over the years served as the inspiration behind her new groundbreaking book, The Ten Habits of Happy Mothers, Reclaiming Our Passion, Purpose and Sanity out from Ballantine Books. Visit Dr. Meg's Resource page.
Dr. Meg’s popularity as a speaker on key issues confronting American families has created a strong following on her blogs for Psychology Today. She has also spoken nationally on teen health issues, including personal appearances on numerous nationally syndicated radio and television programs. Additionally, Dr. Meg lends her voice to regular features in Physician Magazine and Psychologies (UK) and was a contributor to QUESTIONS KIDS ASK ABOUT SEX: Honest Answers for Every Age, The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care (Tyndale House Publishers) and High School Science text, Holt-Rhinehart and Winston, 2004.
Dr. Meg is presently re-certifying with the American Board of Pediatrics and is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the National Advisory Board of the Medical Institute, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University; Munson Hospital Family Practice Residency Training Program 1998-present.
Dr. Meeker lives and works in Traverse City, MI where she shares a medical practice with her husband, Walter. They have four grown children.
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