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Young Teen Response To Death And Grief

Question:

My daughter (let’s call her Sally) is 13. In the past year she has lost two very close friends and one older person who she knew as a long time friend of the family. Her grandmother is 91 and we are near to losing her. Sally – from my father’s perspective – seems a normal young person trying to find what she likes, testing her independence, etc.. She is physically and emotionally (socially) ahead of most of her peers. She is B student, loves music, hates to read, loves sports, and has a few very close girl friends. She avoids the "mean girl’s" clique thing like the plague. She is adopted and has always known this and embraced it as part of her identity. Recently she began a texting conversation with a boy at school. We got access to it and discovered it to be full of "adult" language of a highly sexual nature, e.g. she asked "what is the horniest thought you’ve had about me?" The 13 yr old boy’s responses had similar intensity of language. We had a conversation with Sally about this. After about 30 minutes of back and forth, she finally said: "Do you really want to know why I did this? I did it because I still think about my friend’s deaths and it bothers me. Sometimes at night I think about it a lot. Doing this (ie sexual conversations with the boy) made me forget." So, my question….is there a link between this kind of "acting out," "out of sync" 13 yr old behavior and what seems to be unresolved grief? Might her adoption (which could now – as she is older and thinks about it more) include feelings of loss? What can/should we do to support her in resolving this?

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Answer:

I fully understand why you and your husband are worried about "Sally." She is so very young (and so is the boy) to engaged in a sexually frank conversation with a boy. Yet, this seems to happen more today than ever before. I believe the reason is that children are exposed to and learn about sex at younger ages than ever before in our society. Movies, television, magazines, radios, and IPods all expose our youngsters to sexually explicit stimulation.

Even the way children dress to school can be very sexually stimulating. It is not unusual for Middle and High School girls to wear extremely tight and revealing jeans, shorts and tops. It is difficult for school officials to enforce dress codes because many families invoke the "right to free expression."

All of this is a long way of me saying that it is not surprising but it is troubling for you to have discovered this.

Can there be a connection between the losses that your daughter has suffered and her sexual thoughts and conversations? That is difficult to say with any kind of certainty. Yes, there could be a connection. Sexuality has to do with life and is, therefore, the opposite of death. In her young life, at a time when she is fully pubescent, she is feeling the heat of the hormones and is embracing "life." However, she is too young to be engaged in sexual activity.

I want to urge you, if you have not done so already, to engage in an honest conversation with her about sex, love, the differences between the two, sexually transmitted diseases and the dangers of pregnancy.

In my opinion, and you and others may disagree with me and that is OK, she should learn about birth control and protection from STD’s. However, it is important to emphasize to her that the discussion has to do with her being smart, using her common sense and not confusing sex and love.

Also, as a parent, it is important for you to do a lot of listening and not just talking. It is also important that, in your anxiety and worry, you not scold or act angry at her. What is happening is natural and that is why she needs to learn to use her head and commons sense and not do things that she could regret if she got pregnant or got an STD.

I want to recommend one more thing:
In addition to this conversation about sex (and it should not be the last or only conversation) that you keep close watch over her school attendance, grades and social life. If she starts to do poorly in school it could be an indication that she is in emotional trouble and you should consider psychotherapy with a psychologist or clinical social worker who has expertise in working with young teens. Family therapy could also help.

I want to thank you for this E. Mail question and I hope you found this helpful. Please know that you are joining the ranks of other worried Moms and Dads all across the country who have children who are either entering adolescence or are fully into it.

Be steady with her, firm but fair, watchful but not stifling, trusting but not naive.

Best of Luck

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