As we saw earlier this week, Sarah Palin has come under attack for choices her teenage child has made. It shouldn't have to be said at a fucking feminist blog that criticizing a woman for the choices that her grown children make is pretty fucked up, and for fuck's sake I would rather not be defending a right wing fuckwit, but here it is. If we want people to believe that we think teenagers are old enough to make complex decisions regarding their reproductive systems and their sexuality then we need to start showing that we believe it. That begins with recognizing that children actually have a right to make decisions that are properly theirs to make.
Psychologists Adler and Dreikurs (apart from their views on homosexuality which I thought were horrible, but I recognize that it was an older time and we have evolved in our understanding of humanity slightly) are pretty spot on when telling us that children respond and make decisions based on how equal they feel. When a child is raised to believe that they have agency over what happens to them they will make better decisions. The theory here is that by standing back and allowing children to make decisions that are properly theirs to make we are encouraging them to learn while giving them a safe environment to do so. I don't know that they saw sexuality as a normal part of this learning process, I haven't read all of their writings, but I very much see sexuality and the choices regarding it in this light.
Sexuality has to do with their own bodies. At some point as children mature into adults they need to know that they and they alone are responsible for those bodies, and that no one has a right to make decisions regarding their body other than themselves. The choice to engage in sexual activity, while unpleasant to think about for some parents, is a choice that is properly our children's to make in their older childhood. It is foolish for us to pretend that our children (our teenagers, if I am not clear about that) are not thinking about or already engaging in sex. Applying Adler and Dreikurs here, instead of shaming them and pretending that our children are not sexual creatures we should be doing everything in our power to educate them and give them all the tools to properly make decisions regarding their own sexuality. This is what we call giving them a safe space to make mistakes.
And the safe space is the most important part. Sometimes we forget that making mistakes is part of growing up. We didn't learn to talk in complete sentences and we didn't learn to walk without falling down a few times. We learned by seeing these things done, and by trying. As parents we need to provide a place where children won't crack their skulls open during their first steps, but we need to stand back and give them the room to take them. Even if they fall.
Unfortunately for our children, sometimes that fall will result in an unplanned pregnancy. Part of this safe space that I mentioned earlier is information. Free from our judgement and free from our own inclinations to choose one way or the other we should be making sure that they have all the knowledge there is regarding birth control, and all of their options should they become sick or pregnant. Knowing that we trust them with this knowledge is part of making them feel like equals in their relationship with us, their parents. This encourages them to make good decisions based on good information when making decisions that are properly theirs to make. Knowing that they are responsible for their own choices encourages them to make better choices, and knowing that they have our love and support should they screw up (no pun intended) makes them more confident.
We may not like dealing with the sexuality of our children, but we can no more ignore it that we can ignore the fact that they will eventually grow out of those clothes and may one day call our music lame. At some point we need to realize that what they do with their bodies really is their own choice. Children grow up and make choices that don't always fall in line with what their parents believe or want, however recognizing that children should be able to make decisions that are properly theirs to make also means that parents are not to be shamed for them anymore than we should shame a teenager for making a decision we don't agree with regarding their body.
And that is part of being Pro-Choice.