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Catherine Durkin Robinson: Sex & middle-school students: Conflicted, yes, but there’s hope

I can’t decide if kids these days are more enlightened when it comes to sex, or just as stupid as we were at their age.

When choosing middle schools for my twin sons, Jacob and Zachary, many factors came into play. I chose their particular magnet program because of its rigorous academic environment, uniforms, early hours, and diverse student population. Added bonus? Students consistently focused on academic issues.

My sons’ friends care about good grades, high test scores, and challenging coursework. Seriously. We’re talking 8th graders. They compete with each other for places on debate teams and chairs in orchestra, and spend their spare time at Kumon, SAT-prep classes, and tutoring.

Their closest friends are of Indian and Asian descent and a few girls have been shunned (grounded) when caught innocently chatting with boys online, about homework no less, without chaperones or permission.

This made me happy on several levels. First, my sons stopped thinking their mother was unreasonably strict. Second, they mostly chat with male friends and, third, I rest easy at night knowing no one at the weekly study group sessions is getting pregnant.

Recently, though, my sons hit the age of 14 and something exploded inside their brains. They come home with a new question every week.

And I’m beginning to run out of answers.

As they get older, teenagers become more interested in sex. There isn’t much parents can do to suppress that, and studies suggest it’s counterproductive to try. The best thing moms and dads can do is stick around, answer questions, and try not to look mortified.

The other day, while driving my kids home from school, they talked to me about a guy breaking up with a girl because she has too many ex-boyfriends. She’s been called a slut and a whore because she “gets around.”

“Did I just wake up in the 1950s?” I asked.

“This guy himself has dated every girl in the school,” Jacob said. “He’s being hypocritical.”

“What does dating mean?” I asked.

“If we make eye contact with a girl and ask her to go with us,” Zachary said, “it’s dating.”

“Go where?” I asked, even though I already knew the answer.

“Nowhere,” Jake and Zach said at the same time.

So at the ripe old age of 14, a boy is shaming a girl for doing nothing more than what he does — making eye contact with the opposite sex and agreeing to be their “date,” which, according to my children, lasts no longer than 3.5 days and doesn’t involve tongue.

I know these kids and their parents are accomplished, successful, and enlightened. They are surrounded by strong women and men who appreciate them.

And yet they have archaic views that are accepted throughout their school.

Yet just when I’m thinking there is no hope, I hear a different story. Another classmate recently came out on Instagram. That’s right. Instagram. He posted a note that said, “I have a confession to make. I’m gay.”

The response was overwhelmingly positive. Every follower, acquaintance, and friend left a message of support and encouragement. No one said anything negative and the kid felt confident enough to come out to his parents.

At a time when too many gay kids are bullied and committing suicide out of sheer desperation, I’m thrilled to hear a good “coming out” story for a change. We are moving in the right direction. Or so I thought until I overheard one middle-schooler say to another, with disdain, “You like Bruno Mars. Dude, that’s gay.”

These kids seem as conflicted as so many others, and the inconsistency is alarming.

Or maybe I’m overreacting and there’s nothing to be concerned about. I wasn’t exactly an enlightened kid. When I was 14 I thought gay people only lived in San Francisco, I believed sex was only OK in the dark between old married people, masturbation was a sin, and I was definitely going to hell.

Look at me now.

Maybe there’s hope for these kids yet.

Catherine Durkin Robinson is a political advocate and organizer, living in Tampa.

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