If the room is a rockin’ …should mom and dad be okay with it? If you have a teenager, you’re probably aware that he or she could be having sex, but is it a parent’s job to facilitate nocturnal relations under the family roof?
The topic of sexy adolescent sleepovers was unpacked in a recent New York Times column (“Sex in a Teenager’s Room?”) by Henry Alford. In it, the author lands on the classically Edwardian approach wherein mom and dad go to bed and let the chips (or, in this case, the limber teenage bodies) fall where they may. For some parents, a don’t ask/don’t tell policy is attractive in that it negates the need for awkward discussion, though a refusal to deal in realities is probably not the best parental policy.
“In Western culture we tend to infantilize teenagers. We think of them as carnal and we think we need to protect them from their own impulses,” said Alyson Schafer, a psychotherapist and author of Honey I Wrecked the Kids. Schafer, who is pro-romantic sleepover, says that young people today are being held back from adulthood in terms of capability, responsibility and yes, the sex stuff. And it’s not doing them any good. In European society, there isn’t the same tendency to equate adolescence with immaturity. “Parents in Europe have higher expectations of their teens – they believe they are capable of romantic love, and also of responsibility,” she said. This is key, because while few parents are dying to usher in the era of sexual activity, most would love to have a teen who could be relied upon to take out the trash or complete homework without nagging. “It’s all connected,” said Schafer.
Karen McCallion is a single mother living in Brampton, Ont., with two sons. Her eldest (now in his early twenties) grew up having sleepovers with the same tight-knit co-ed gang, starting as early as Grade 7 or 8. When he was 17, she allowed him to have sleepovers with his girlfriend. “They didn’t ask me until they had been dating for at least six months – by then I felt comfortable that they were in a caring and responsible relationship,” said McCallion. Not that she was comfortable with everything: “Don’t get me wrong – it’s not like I love lying in bed and hearing noises coming from the basement. … A lot of times parenting isn’t comfortable, but the real mistake is avoiding the uncomfortable situations.” McCallion said she has never regretted her decision, but will re-evaluate when her second son reaches his teens. “[My eldest son] was in committed responsible relationships, but who knows – his brother could end up being a serial dater. It’s not like I’m going to let one girl sleep over one weekend and another girl the next.”
Schafer agrees that it’s all about the specific kid, which is why readiness should be about reaching a certain level of maturity and not a certain age: “Cleopatra had her own country at 14,” she said. “It’s all relative.”
Speaking of beguiling beauties, Angelina Jolie is also in favour of letting children lie and even live together at the parental home. In a 2011 interview with the British tabloid The Sun, the actress revealed that at 14, she and her then-boyfriend lived together “like a married couple” at her mother’s house, and that when her own kids reached a certain age, she planned to adopt a similar household policy.
Jolie’s logic is that because she was able to get it on in the home, she wasn’t out having irresponsible and possibly unsafe sex. Her argument is not flawless – unless mom and/or dad are literally supervising, then presumably unsafe sex can happen anywhere, and just because you are permitted to do something in one place doesn’t mean you won’t do it elsewhere. Still, her instinct towards honest dialogue is on the mark.
Open channels of communication (whether we’re talking about sex, drugs or bullying) are among the best indicators of a successful transition into adulthood. “It’s important to remember that by talking to our kids about sex, we are not encouraging them to do it,” said Schafer. “It’s like when there was the big debate about giving teens access to birth control. There were parents arguing that that would lead to a rise in sexual activity, which of course, didn’t happen.”