Our panel of sex and education experts tackles some common questions …
Parents and carers should be open, honest and supportive during puberty.
Puberty can be a challenging time for children and their parents and carers, who may find it difficult to answer questions about sexuality and relationships. There are no perfect answers but support and honesty are important as children enter puberty, which can start as young as eight in girls and nine in boys.
Parents, carers and families are the most important source of sexuality and relationship information. They should also admit when they don’t have an answer and offer to find it together. The internet provides a wealth of starting points. Programs such as WA Health’s Talk Soon. Talk Often offer tips for parents and carers who are unsure about what to do or say.
Victoria’s sexual assault laws cover a range of offences that parents of teenagers should be familiar with. Essentially, forcing someone of any age to take part in any sexual act is an offence. Having sex with someone who is underage is also an offence, but there are some defences available in exceptional circumstances.
Teenagers should know about laws relating to sexual assault and harassment, and that they can talk to their parents and carers if they feel an offence has been committed against them or a friend.
It is important to tell police or employers as soon as possible if you become aware of an offence.
Generally, young people have good knowledge about HIV. But we need to ensure that they don’t become complacent due to modern treatments.
In the early 1980s, a diagnosis of AIDS was considered a death sentence. Various treatments can now keep those living with HIV relatively healthy, which is an enormous step forward but still not a cure.
Annual new HIV infections in Victoria peaked in 1985 at more than 500 and fell to 141 in 1999. They climbed again and evened out at roughly 260 cases each year from 2006 to 2009, before falling to 228 cases in 2010 (1). The number of new cases has been relatively stable for several years.
The instance of chlamydia, a potentially serious infection that can cause infertility, has doubled in the past 10 years.
The fifth National Survey of Australian Secondary Students and Sexual Health 2013* found only 2.2 per cent of young men and 2.7 per cent of young women had been diagnosed with an STI (Sexually Transmissable infection).
Most (88.5 per cent) knew they could have an STI without displaying obvious symptoms. But fewer knew that chlamydia affects both men and women (60 per cent), can lead to sterility among women (56 per cent), and once a person has genital herpes they will always have the virus (46 per cent).
ABC Radio Melbourne presenter Clare Bowditch talked to Steve Biddulph AM, Australian author, activist and psychologist about his new book on parenting and raising girls. This is an edited transcript of the interview.
Clare Bowditch: There are many things in life that we spend lots of time worrying about, but for those of you who have children I am assuming that you’re something like me and you spend a fair bit of your time wondering “How do I give these kids what they need in order to become the kind of adults that I know they can be?” It’s a question educators like Steve Biddulph have been asking for some decades now. You might know him as the author behind the million selling book, Raising Boys. He’s now turned his attention once again to the mental health of our girls. His belief is that perhaps they’re growing up too fast in these times. What can we do to support them in their growth and what are the 10 things, according to Steve Biddulph, that girls need most? That’s the title of his new book. …
Steve you have a lovely way of being able to simplify this complicated process called growing up. Now, you’ve been guiding parents through the process of supporting their kids in their quest to adulthood for many decades now. What have you noticed changing particularly in the life of girls?
Steve Biddulph: Okay, well it used to be Clare that girls were going great. 20 years ago they were flying ahead and that’s why I concentrated on boys for nearly 35 years because boys were the disaster area. But about 10 years ago my colleagues all around the world were picking up this really serious downturn in the mental health of girls. I had a teenage daughter in those times and I saw what she was going through and what her friends were going through and girls were just getting hammered. We just got more and more alarmed and so this new book is because I thought we needed some stronger medicine to give parents to help girls regain self-belief. All the things feminism was working for which seem to have gone out the window just lately.
CB: I think there is a new and interesting way of coming through but what you’re saying is girls were suffering. What was the evidence of this? What were you seeing Steve? How are they showing their suffering?
SB: The most clear cut and probably the core thing was anxiety. Now there may be people listening who’ve got daughters who are relaxed and confident and spirited into their mid teens. They may have loyal friends and are treated respectfully by the boys in their lives and that’s fantastic if that’s the case but for about two girls out of five, that’s just not so. They’re massively anxious and currently across the western world one in five teenage girls is on anxiety medication. They’ve reached a point where mum or dad have taken them to their doctor because it’s that’s scary and severe. Anxiety then drives the other things like self-harm and eating disorders and alcohol over use and risky sex … but anxiety, we think, is the core.
ABC TV journalist Emma Alberici speaks to social psychology expert and Associate Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business Adam Alter and Professor at the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Wollongong Katina Michael about how apps are tailor-made to encourage addiction.
EMMA ALBERICI: I’m joined now from New York by Professor and author Adam Alter, he’s the author of Irresistible, the book examining our growing addiction to technology. Katina Michael is here with me in the studio, she’s Professor at the School of Computing and Information Technology at the University of Wollongong, specialising in online addiction. … Adam, how addicted are we to technology? Well, you heard a bit about it earlier on. We are greatly addicted. There was a massive study that was run in 2011, so that’s now some years ago, showing that about 41 per cent of the adult population had some form of behavioural addiction and the suggestion is that now that is probably up around 50 per cent. And Katina, is there a particular demographic or sex that is more vulnerable than another?
KATINA MICHAEL: I think our studies have shown that anyone over 14 and under 55 are as prone, for instance, to smartphone addiction. So we are all copying each other and it looks [like] normalised behaviour and given our parents are using more, children are using more and they are copying and mimicking.
EM: What constitutes addictive technology Adam, assuming it doesn’t include making calls on your phone?
AA: No that’s right, most of what goes on, on screens, so it’s the screen component of the phone that’s so difficult for us to resist. And that’s because screens can deliver all sorts of interesting rewards to us, that draw us in and that keep us engaged over time. So things like games, email, social media, texting is a big one as well. So those are just some of them. There is also shopping. Fitness devices. It’s a pretty big range of behaviours.
EM: And what do you think are the long-term consequences, negative clearly of this addictive behaviour? I mean drug addiction and gambling addictions, we know what those obvious consequences and impacts are. Katina what is the problem with being on our phone so much?
ABC Radio Melbourne morning presenter Jon Faine accepted an invitation from a listener to sit down have a cup of tea and talk about what’s happened in his family. “Tony”, as he asked to be called, wanted his story to be heard by a wider audience.
JF: Let’s start at the beginning. Tell us, what happened?
Tony: I guess the best place to start would be, nearly on three years ago now my wife and I received two distressing calls from two of our oldest sons.
JF: You have how many children altogether?
Tony:Four. We’ve lived in our community for over thirty years. Like all parents we’ve always wanted to do the right things and we’re very connected in the community. A loving family, grandparents who adored the grandchildren but on this particular day we received two distressing calls separately. One to me and one to my wife. It was basically screaming coming over the phone. There was the mention of “He’s going to shoot me”. I grabbed my wife, we jumped in the car and we went to this place, which happened to be my parents house, about 10 minutes away. We got there and as we were rounding the corner there was over 30 police cars, there were helicopters. It was like a scene out of some sort of movie. There were the tapes they put across the road. Well, I disregarded the tapes and drove through them and I could see my younger of my two older boys lying on the ground.
JF: He’s how old?
Tony: At the time he was approximately 25. As with anything like that of course what you’re hoping for is to see some kind of movement. He was just lying there so we had no idea whether he was dead, alive or whatever.
JF: Were there police nearby?
Tony: There were over two-dozen police …
JF: No, no. Nearby him specifically? On the ground.
Parents must learn the language and culture of young people online before having meaningful conversations with their children about it.
Dr Carr-Gregg talks about the impact of social media on teenage girls
Dr Carr-Gregg said a technology-free dinner time was the perfect way to talk and bond. Research showed that children who had this were more likely to do better at school and resist illicit drugs.
“The research is crystal clear and yet we have a decline in the number of families who are actually managing to do this,” he says.
While there was no firm evidence that their time online was affecting kids’ language skills or turning them into “sociopathic monsters”, Dr Carr-Gregg said it was important for parents to regulate use.
Since YoDAA began we’ve had thousands of contacts. We often find parents have no idea what they need or want. They are overwhelmed and recognise they need something, but they don’t know what. They simply need to talk to someone. and it’s our job to listen, to provide information and strategies, and to refer parents on to other services when needed.
We help parents who are just finding out about experimentation with drugs right through to those who have children in a treatment service. We find there are particular types of information parents and carers want to know (compared to young people, schools or youth workers) when they contact YoDAA. ‘How would I know if someone in my home is using? How would I know if someone in my home is dealing?’ ‘I’ve just hacked my son or daughter’s Facebook page and found out they are using drugs – what do I do?’ ‘My son has been discharged from a treatment service, I don’t think he’s ready to come home’.
There’s something specific about the teenage years and moving from a period of complete dependence to being an independent adult, taking responsibility and making your own decisions. That middle stage is a transition.
We read a lot about the teenage brain, that young people haven’t got that executive function yet and so they rely more on emotions and impulses to make decisions. But young people need experiences to learn to be able to make decisions. So there’s a real tension in parenting adolescents to gradually give over responsibility and autonomy but still have safety nets.
Every bone in our body wants to make the immediate OK. So with drugs and alcohol it is horrific to consider letting a young person manage their own risk, because what if they go out tonight and something happens? The emotional want and need is to make tonight OK. So if your son or daughter is safely in their bedroom, you can sleep tonight. But we know that won’t produce a life-skilled 21-year-old.