Last week, North Carolina legislators considered a measure that would require teens to obtain parental consent to obtain a number of basic sexual health services, like birth control prescriptions and STD testing and treatment. The idea, according to the measure’s proponents, is to avoid problems involving teen’s health decisions and to open the lines of communication between parents and their children.
There are a million problems with this, as Tara Culp-Ressler reports at Think Progress. Among those problems is the fact that not all teens have awesome relationships with their parents. In fact, as much as we would like to deny it, those relationships can be downright abusive. Regardless of what the ideal might be, it’s not always possible for teenagers to talk to their parents and we shouldn’t make it any harder for young people to get the health care they need.
But this measure also betrays our attitude regarding teenagers.
Think back for a second. Remember when you were a teenager? It’s this nebulous place between childhood and adulthood. It’s a time of many mistakes, sure. But it’s also a time to learn from those mistakes as they develop into full adults. In the span of a few years, it becomes inappropriate to treat teens as children who are incapable of making their own informed decisions. It happens rapidly, but it does happen.
I think adults tend to forget what it’s like to be a teenager. We – adults – can forget that teens have their own internal lives with their own need for privacy and the need to make their own life decisions. And, come on, if you have a teen who is thinking about contraception and STD testing, you’ve got a pretty responsible teen.
Let’s face it. We have a pretty screwed up relationship with sex. It’s a perfectly natural part of life, yet it’s often considered a shameful act that needs to be hidden. This goes double for teens who are starting to see themselves as sexual beings. On the one hand, sex is everywhere. On the other hand, we as a society choose to ignore the fact that teens have sex. We decide to fund abstinence-only education instead of comprehensive sex ed under the misguided assumption that if we can just make sex as scary as possible young people won’t engage in it. But this has been proven wrong.
So we try to make it harder for teens to get the information they need to keep themselves healthy and not pregnant? That only makes sense if the goal is to keep control of teenagers. Which is, in my humble opinion, a fool’s errand.
Look, I’m almost 30. I’m completely irrelevant when it comes to youth culture. And I probably wouldn’t have as much of a sense that teens are autonomous humans if not for the fact that I’m basically surrounded by them every day as part of another project. However, I’ve learned that teenagers are smart. They may need some guidance, but guidance doesn’t mean make information harder to come by. And teens don’t become functional adults without some freedom to think and act for themselves. Us olds would do well to remember that.
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