Monday, September 11, 2006

Fast Little Women

This weekend I chaperoned a birthday party for a 16 year old. Yes, I probably SHOULD have my temperature taken or something like that. But I am pleased to report that I survived relatively intact, suffering only from a slight lack of sleep after staying up till all hours and a mild stomach ache from eating the traditional teenage birthday party feast which consists of pizza, Coke, Doritos, and chocolate chip cookies. And the kids were great, especially considering that I don’t typically like teenagers (except the one I am related to, who is wonderful - it was her birthday). At 16 I thought I was an adult and the people around me were just taking a while to realize it. In light of that, it was disorienting to spend time with 16-year-olds who look a bit like coltish overgrown children from my current perspective.

I had nearly forgotten just how confused 16 year old girls can get about their self-worth and how it relates to their sexuality. I mean, sex can be confusing even if you AREN’T 16. It is certainly a complicated issue if you ARE 16. But for some teenagers it goes even a step further.

At 16 I tried to impress a 19 year old boy by behaving in a more sexual manner than was natural or appropriate for me. I was fortunate. Wise beyond his years, he sat me down and said, “This isn’t you. You aren’t like this and you don’t want people to think you are like this. Stop it. Act like yourself.” I was horrified and avoided him for weeks but I got the message and appreciated his advice once I recovered from my acute embarassment.

While I learned the lesson early, I knew a lot of girls in high school who went further than just flirting to ensure that boys liked them. A lot of teenage girls, lacking a sense of self-worth, feel that sex is the only way they can secure a boy’s affections. (Sadly, now that I think about it, I also know adult women who never mature past that approach to getting a man's attention...)

We definitely had one of those girls as a guest at this party. She has a new boyfriend - they had been “dating” for three whole days prior to the party. She clung to the him, nuzzled him, tried to have him stay in the bathroom while she changed clothes (he came running out immediately - looking very embarrassed - I was not, thankfully, forced to go in and get him) and generally acted in an overtly sexual manner. He’s a nice kid. He clearly likes her, but seemed uncomfortable with her aggressive advances. She is very pretty, pleasant to talk to, energetic and seems well-liked. She does not need to go so fast in order to get and keep a boyfriend. All it will get her is a bad reputation (and possibly a pregnancy or an STD).

I don’t know if this happens as often in other cultures (I would be curious to know) and I don’t know exactly what teaches girls this behavior. Somewhere they learn that sex can give them power, make someone want them, effect how people behave toward them. Girls (and women) who are desperate for approval, for affection or who have feelings of powerlessness sometimes start to exploit their sexuality to fill those gaps. It can also be a sign of something more serious - like a history of sexual abuse. And I am not saying that teenage hormones don’t come into play in this equation, but there’s big difference between a teen who’s hormonal and discovering sex and a teen who is consistently inappropriately sexual.

In spite of my vigilance, she managed to give the boy an enormous hickey while they were watching a movie. Now the two are in trouble with their parents. A hickey, while distasteful (even as a teenager, I thought it was tacky to have someone mark your neck - they may as well pee on your shoes to mark their territory), is temporary and relatively harmless. And I have no illusions that a parent’s opinion will slow this girl down. Maybe, however, the two will get in enough trouble that her boyfriend will be upset with her and THAT may slow her down a bit. One can hope.

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