Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Rebellious teenage wisdom mine field of dreams

I've been up all night. I mean I've been sleeping here and there, but with several bouts of tossing and turning in between. Part of it is the influence of Sudafed mixed with cough meds(wow that stuff is powerful. Sudaspeed?). The other part is worry about my influence over some teenage girls in my little neighborhood.

I used to be a teen girl leader (called the Young Womens program) in a Mormon congregation in my neighborhood. This ended when I confessed I didn't know if I believed the tenets of my faith and was asked to turn in what is called a temple recommend. More on that some other day.

Well, for some of the older girls in the neighborhood this week is prom week. And the kids in my neighborhood are poor. And I, they've noticed, have dresses. So last night a bunch came over to ask if they could borrow some of them for the dance.

Keep in mind it's hard for me to share. I was raised an only girl. And although I did always wish for a sister, sharing was not part of that vision. And these are teenagers. So I was reluctant but torn. I do have quite a few very pretty dresses, some I never wear. And these girls are from poor families. And it's the nature of Mormons (and good Christians everywhere) to share what they have. So I caved. "Yes, sure, come in, let's see what I've got". Flood gates open!

Enter my bedroom, dresses, shoes and jewelry flying. Conversation flowing (about, what else? Boys!).

All 5 of the girls there were LDS and from nice families and remember me being their leader (even though, let's face it, I only really ever went to church for YW most of the time). But they remember me being their leader and example. And I tried very hard to support the standards taught.

So when these darling girls come over and look to me for guidance and ask questions like "Is this dress modest?" "Why won't my mom let me pierce my nose?" or when one of the girls confesses (at the tender age of 14) that she's had sex with her gets tricky.

They think of me as like a cool surrogate parent. They trust me. Trying to give out good, helpful advice while not pissing off any parents is like navigating a mine field.

Yet, I know why these girls come to me and not their moms or their YW leaders. They are looking for real answers. They think I have them. They are young and sweet and trying to figure out how to navigate life. Their leaders are frumpy. Their moms (at least a good portion of them in my hood) are from foreign countries and don't always understand American culture. And these, like any other teenage girls, want to be liked, want to have nice things and want to do well in life. And here I am, the strange, single, white girl with the pretty dresses and youthful personality and I'm not their mom.

I tried to do the best I could, advising the one girl to wait till she's really ready (not 14) with a guy who loves her (not the douche she was with) and to please, next time, use protection for the love (she didn't even think to do that! And yes I DID advise protection over abstinence because that is reality, deal with it). With the modest dress thing I was cautious. That was always the fight I had with my own mom. In my mind it was perfectly fine to wear what I wanted (looking back, it was not on plenty of occassions. Hello bra strap showing and mini skirts to church?). To me, my current dresses are fine. But their moms might not think so. So I made sure they got that, suggested a cover up, and let them decide. The piercing thing was harder. I want to pierce my own nose. I admitted I'd thought about the same thing. A little jeweled stud is very pretty. Then worried I'd said the wrong thing and encouraged a rebellion. "Sarah wants to pierce her nose, mom!".

Also, to add in a little icing on this teen advice cake, they asked why I have such nice things. Was I rich? No, no, definitely no, little girls. I just don't have kids and a husband. Yay! I mean, whoops, uh, I think you are encouraged to get married so do that, mmm ya. Actually, what I really mean is, you are teenagers, why does your belief system fill you with this crappy nonsense? Your worth should not be wrapped up in getting married. I mean, you know, when the right guy comes along it's wonderful. Ugh, I give up! I have nice stuff because I get to spend my earnings on myself instead of answering to a husband and kids and you know what? Something no one ever tells you when you are raised Mormon is that if you are single you are not lonely and sad. It's really, really fun.

So I tossed. I turned. There's been not much sleep. I probably said all the wrong things. Encouraged some rebels and hopefully they don't go home and tell their parents. I love that they like me so much and look to me but man, this is tricky. I don't know what I'd do if I were their actual parents.


mj said...

I think you did pretty well considering the circumstances and I think it is great that they feel there is an adult they can confide in. Ideally I think you should encourage them to talk to their parents, though. I know that's much easier said than done. And I don't know their parents. Maybe they aren't prepared to have an open and honest conversation with their kids.

But the thing is you or someone like you won't always be there and their parents will. Parents NEED to deal with this kind of stuff and they should also allow their kids to fully communicate their concerns while they listen (not condemn). It's easy to say for me when I only have a 17-month-old, but stuff like this does make me realize what kind of parent I should be as she grows up.

RE: 14 year old having sex. I don't care where you stand on the morals professed by any church. The fact is a 14 year old does not have the kind of emotional maturity or self-respect to have a healthy consentual sexual relationship. It's really sad to me to hear how many people had their first sexual experience with someone who either didn't care about them or they didn't care about. Here's what I would say to a young teen considering having sex: To me it is the most intimate act when you are at your most vulnerable. It's something to share only with someone you trust all of your vulnerabilities with. If you wouldn't tell them your biggest fears or embarrassments or hopes & dreams, then you certainly don't need to be giving them an all-access pass to your body. The fact that those things can be separated is a myth. Otherwise you are cheating yourself and them out of a more fulfilling experience. Also--sidenote--how much you are liked in jr. high and highschool has no impact on your future happiness.

RE: your issues with doubt, feel free to send me an email as I have been there to some extent (first name dot maiden last name at gmail). I remember waiting and waiting for God to speak to me. Belief/faith is not an easy thing, though it is very, very easy to pick apart and tear down.

mj said...

I don't know if some of that made sense. My brain is fried with technical writing...

SJ said...

MJ - It's good to hear from you. I like your thought-out response. On the religious thing, though. I've been discussing it to death for quite a few months now. I don't think I have the energy for another one. It just seems to piss off the religious or leave them with way too much concern for me. It doesn't end well. I'd rather connect on commonalities. You know? Anywho, I am glad you read and responde. Sometimes I wonder if anyone even reads this thing at all.

George Marie said...

I definitely can relate to what you are feeling regarding some of the doubts you have or questions that some things in the Church may raise. I remember that there was one point I thought about resigning my membership. Then I remembered all the great people that the Church had brought into my life, and that if I hadn't have joined, I wouldn't even be where I am now. The people who listen to concerns and don't say, "You are not praying hard enough," or, "You must be doing something in your life that is disobedient," make all the difference.

Steve said...

I'm not going to talk about church, since you and most of your readers know the ultimate direction I went.....

MJ makes very good points, but I don't see those resonating with a 14 year old (boy or girl). Sure, after the fact you can say "Sex was better with B b/c I didn't love A". But when you are with A, you don't know the difference. And honestly, some people CAN and DO seperate emotions from sex just fine, especially teenagers (prob more boys). Do I condone 14 year olds having sex, no. But you have to give them a compleeing reason not to besides "right/wrong" and other emotional, abstract ideas. Personally, what worked for me was the fear of getting any sort of disease and getting someone preggo! I wanted to go to college and move away, so I kept things away from cetain areas until I was out of high school! hahha.

mj said...

Yeah, Steve, you make a good point. It's a bit much to take for a 14 year old. I think I may have some success saying something like that to my kid but we do have a family therapist in the house so we automatically talk about emotional issues and such. The scare tactics are classic and they also happen to be true. People really do have unwanted pregnancies and get nasty STDs.

And SJ, that's cool by me.