Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Boys & Birth Control

Photo by robertelyov via Flickr
1 out of 5 sexually active teenage boys does not receive info regarding condom usage or birth control from their parents, doctors or teachers.

That's according to a report by the Center for Advancing Health. The report, which looked at sexually active teens between the ages of 13 and 19, found that parents were the most likely source of  information regarding birth control and sexual health. 43 percent of the males said that their parents shared info with them regarding birth control, and 66 percent of the males said their parents shared information about sexually transmitted diseases. Only 1/3 said they got similar information from their healthcare providers. 

Think about those numbers for a minute. 43 percent of the sexually active boys said that they'd received info about birth control from their parents or teachers. That means that 57 percent of sexually active teenage boys had not gotten any info about birth control from a parent or teacher, and the odds are good that that didn't hear anything from their doctor either. 44 percent of sexually active teenage boys didn't have info about sexually transmitted diseases, at least not from a reliable source such as a parent, teacher or healthcare provider.

Those numbers are terrible. Those numbers are shameful. 

Our boys NEED information about sex and sexual health. They need to know how to protect themselves and a partner from sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy. And they need that information whether or not they are sexually active at the moment, because the odds are extremely, very,very good that they will become sexually active at some point.

As a nurse, as a health writer and as an advocate for boys, I strongly believe that 100 percent of teenage boys should not only have information about sexual health, birth control and STD prevention, but that they should also have easy access to condoms  -- not because I want to encourage teen boys to have sex, but because I'm a realist. At some point, those boys-becoming-men will have sex, and I want them to have all of the tools and knowledge they need to keep themselves (and their partners) safe.

As a parent, though, I realize it's not easy. It is much easier for me, as a nurse, health writer and advocate, to say that all boys should have that info -- and much harder for me to actually sit down and talk to my boys about these topics. Much harder to discern when I should make condoms available. Much harder to decide how much information to share, and when. 

So know this: It's OK to be uncomfortable. It's OK to stumble through these questions and discussions, and OK to veer from too little to too much info and back again. Talking to kids about sex is hard because all kids, all parents and all families are different. As a blogger, I have the luxury of talking in generalities: You should talk to your boys about sex. As a parent, you have the difficult job of tailoring the information to your child, of figuring out what to say when and how to present the info in such a way that your kid might actually take it in. 

I can't tell you how to do that. I can't tell you exactly when or how to bring up birth control with your boys. (Though I'm happy to field any questions, and will share some suggestions in a future post.) What I can tell you is that discomfort is no excuse. It is simply irresponsible to send our sons out into the world without solid knowledge of sexual health and birth control.

So be uncomfortable. Stumble through the presentation. Be willing to be awkward and presumptuous. TALK TO YOUR BOYS about sex, and make sure they understand the mechanics of sex and conception and birth control and STD prevention. (They need to know about the emotional and ethical components of sex too, but I'll save that for another post.) 

Before your boys leave your house -- hopefully, well before -- your boys need to know how to protect their sexual health. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Big Boy Trouble, Little Boy Trouble

It's summer here, and that means baseball.

Three of my four boys play baseball -- on four different teams. How can that be?, you may wonder. Well, Boy #2 actually plays on two different teams, his regular team (which plays during the week) and a travel team that plays in occasional weekend tourneys.

All of that baseball means that I spend most of my evenings at the ballpark. And last night at the ballpark, as the kids unwound by playing yet another game of baseball (yes, you read that correctly: the kids who had just finished playing segued into a pick up game with their friends/opponents, siblings and any other kids who happened to be around), the parents talked parenting around the concession stand.

Another mom of boys (she has three vs. my four) shared that her middle son recently got a speeding ticket. The consequences were pretty severe because he still has a probationary driver's license and had one more passenger than allowed under our state's graduated licensing program. But of course, the consequences could have been worse. The state trooper that showed up at the door to inform the parents of their child's driving infraction could have been carrying far worse news.

We chatted some more. The conversation turned to summer school, and I shared that we've already gotten a call from a teacher regarding our seven-year old's behavior. On day 3 of summer school. (For the record, he is taking exactly two classes, Phy Ed Fun and Math Munchies.) Our son, it seems, is being disruptive and not listening in class.

"See?" the other mom-of-boy said. "Little boy problems, big boy problems!" Her boy is in trouble for an offense including  a thousands-of-pounds moving vehicle; he could have died. My son is in trouble for talking during class; he could have landed in the principal's office.

It's true: as our kids grow, the consequences of their actions become much bigger. An older child who makes a poor decision may not be able to find a job, or may run afoul of the law. An older child who makes a poor decision might kill himself or others. Younger kids who make poor decisions often end up in timeout.

But really, isn't it all the same? I want my sons to learn to respect others. To respect themselves. And to live peacefully in society. What my son learns now -- at age 7 -- will affect his behavior at age 17. So while I'm glad that his actions still have relatively tiny consequences, I don't think his problems are any less significant or worthy of attention.

We lay the foundation for our kids in the early years, and spend the next many years shoring up that foundation. What we do now matters, whether our boys are big or little.