“My adopted son and daughter are almost legal adults. I know I need to give them more freedom to grow up,” one dad told me. “And yet the stakes are so much higher. No more little problems. Now my kids are facing mistakes that could change or destroy their lives. I know I need to let them go and yet I am frightened at what can happen. I want to protect them.”
Powerful life-shaping drives, like sex and aggression, have much in common. They both generate sudden strong physical arousal which insists on an immediate response. The cost of a serious mistake is unacceptably high. These drives are most impelling in adolescence, a time when emerging adults lack sufficient life experience to fully appreciate the dangers. What can parents do to minimize the dangers?
Why is it that the matters that parents are most concerned about are also the ones where they have the least to say? A thoughtful consideration of either violence or sex is considered taboo in our culture. Instead we demonize sex as pornography and we trivialize violence as if it were a game. Our attitude makes it doubly difficult to protect our children and to prepare them to cope with the two primal drives of sex and aggression.
Sex is the way the human race renews itself and a tangible expression of love. Yet we ignore its wondrous purposes, primarily focusing on premature and unwanted pregnancy. Aggression can fuel assertiveness and energize a person to overcome handicaps. It becomes a problem when it degenerates to personal violence. Unfortunately, we make light of it with a mindless overflow of homicidal video games and films, as if killing were romantic and death were not real. We live in a society that treats sex schizophrenically as a peekaboo sin, while violence is paraded as entertainment.
No verbal lectures can be relied upon to override surging hormones and passion. Checking for drugs and sex is a never-ending and nearly impossible quest. Teens are inventive enough to work their way around almost any parental attempt to control them.
Blind spots in our culture make it difficult for parents to deal with the dangerous problems of late adolescence. Each family must work with their teen to find their own reasonable solution: a balance between the almost-adult’s need for freedom to grow and the parents’ need to set limits learned over a lifetime.