Saturday, November 19, 2011

In Need of a Chaperone

When I was in high school, I spent a night in a hotel with some acquaintances. Our parents had met each other briefly and, as far as I know, had no concerns about the adventure. After all, there were adults we knew and trusted staying in the hotel with us and a strict, enforced curfew.

It was not a good night.

I was the oldest by two years, being a senior. I suppose I should have spoken up, but I took the coward's way out and pretended I was asleep. While I feigned sleep, the other three girls phoned the boys' room and arranged a mutual peep show at their windows, which faced each other across the hotel courtyard. When that lost its appeal, they returned to the comfort of their beds and began girl talk.

I had quite a few sleep overs through middle and high school. When we stayed up late to talk, we talked about how our soccer team was doing, what we were going to read for our English class project, and whether that cute boy was just being polite or was actually interested is us. We were goofy and stayed up to watch Veggie Tales (yes, in high school) and eat junk food.

More sugar, anyone?

These girls, after the preliminaries of establishing age and whom they were dating, talked sex. I think the youngest was 12 and the oldest was 16. The general theme of the conversation was the oldest girl instructing the others, in great detail, how they could best pleasure their boy friends. She noted that she didn't have 'real sex' with her boy friend, but detailed just about everything up to that point.

The younger girls paid close attention and asked quite a few questions. At one point the youngest asked, "Are you going to get married when you graduate?" "Oh no," said the oldest, "he's fun to date, but I couldn't marry him. We don't have the same values, you know?"

This almost made me laugh, which surely would have ruined my guise of being asleep. See, we were there as part of a Catholic youth conference. I couldn't believe that she would talk about shared values while discussing what she did.

Why am I sharing this story now? Not to cast a bad light on the youth group leadership or the Church. They thought we were safely tucked away in a hotel room with an entire building between us and the boys. What could possibly happen?

In part, I share this to admit my guilt. I was the oldest and, although they didn't respect me, had I spoken out against what they were doing, I could have at least protected the younger ones from being misled. (They didn't respect me because I was not a "popular kid" and they were.) If they had decided to ignore me, I could have called one of the chaperones. But I didn't.

I am also sharing this as a cautionary tale for those who chaperone groups of kids. I am not sure if there is a good solution, since having one adult alone in a room of children is asking for accusations. Maybe the adults should emphasize that if anyone is feeling uncomfortable, there is no shame in calling an adult.

(One of the kids in youth group recently asked me to come watch the ping pong game he and some other boys were playing. I didn't know why he asked, but I agreed. As I stood and watched for a minute, one of his opponents looked up and defensively said, "What?!" A guilty conscience needs no accuser. The simple presence of an adult will make kids more responsible.)

Finally, I share this story as a warning for parents. Remember, the youngest girl was about 12. She was learning, at a church-sponsored event, that oral sex was not only acceptable, but desirable if you are to have a good relationship with a boy. I really hope she talked with her parents when she got home, as I did with mine.

If you do not teach values to your children, someone else will. Please talk openly with your kids about your expectations. Begin early and talk often.

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