Following is the full text of parenting coach Lisa Bunnage’s TEDx Talk: The Unsexy Truth, The Hookup Culture at TEDxSFU.
As a parenting coach, I get to talk to a lot of troubled teenagers.
About six years ago, I had a really interesting conversation with a 16-year-old girl, who was on the phone – this is me with the phone by the way – and it was a coaching session; it was on a Monday.
I said, “Hi sweetie, how are you doing?”
And she says, “I’m doing OK.”
I said, “That’s good, how was your weekend?”
She said, “It was OK. I partied and the usual I drank a bit, and I met a new guy.”
“Oh! What’s he like?”
“He’s OK. I didn’t really like him that much, so I wouldn’t let him kiss me.”
“Good for you. I’m really proud of you!”
“So, I just gave him a blow job instead.”
True story, true story. I always say that I could never be shocked because I’ve heard everything, but that was the first time I’ve ever heard anything quite like that.
I was really glad it wasn’t Skype and that she didn’t see my reaction. It’s really good when you work from home: you don’t care what you look like, so I don’t like it when a client says, “Can we do a video Skype?” Oh, geez, anyway.
This young girl was right at the start of the hookup culture. It progressed, it got worse and worse, and shortly after I talked to her — I thought, maybe she was just a one-off — but shortly after talking to her, I talked to a 14-year-old boy. He said he was at a party, and they were drinking, and there were all these kids there, and he had shared his drink with this girl.
He said, “And afterwards, she wouldn’t give me a blow job!”
So, I had experience with this now, so I said, “Oh, what a bitch!” I admit, OK, that’s not what I said.
Then I thought, how did we get here? Like, what is going on? Am I that old that everyone else knows what’s going on, and it’s just me? But no, of course not.
So I thought, let’s go back in time to when I was a little girl. This is not me. And I figure she probably wasn’t getting much action even back then. That was the style.
Back in the 60s, it was all about parenting, and this is where the changes really started to happen. In the 60s, moms generally didn’t work. That was the norm: all moms were home, and every house had a mom in it; she had an apron, she was baking, she was gardening, all that stereotype.
She always had curlers in her hair, too. Does anyone else remember that? They never seemed to go anywhere, but had curlers in, all day long.
They’d be gardening with their curlers, but the thing is us kids were watched. Every parent knew every kid in the neighborhood, and they thought nothing on tattling on us. They’d phone up, “Dorothy, do you know what your little girl’s doing?”, and we’d get a whack on the butt with a rolling pin.
We were looked after, we were watched, and the schools were disciplining us, too. We get a ruler on the hand, or a belt on the butt.
I’m not saying it’s good, but it was something. So, kids respected adults as a result of this.
Let’s go to the 70s now. It’s interesting, the reason I chose these pictures is we all thought we looked like the one on the left. In reality, we looked like the one on the right. We tried, we really tried.
This was my teenage decade. In the 70s, there was a big shift. A lot of moms started going back to work. With that, when she did get home after work, she was more tired, right? She’d been at work all day; she didn’t have the energy for the kids. The term latchkey kids started coming in.
So, kids were coming home with the key. They were letting themselves in, eating Twinkies, sitting on the couch, watching “I Dream of Jeannie” or whatever; The Brady Bunch probably.
So, kids were on their own more. As a result of this, they started losing respect for adults because they were alone more. They started looking to their peers a little bit more for guidance, which we all know how that goes.
Also, schools were losing a lot of their power; they could no longer discipline children. But it just got worse.
Well, not necessarily that, but in the 80s, pretty much the norm was: all moms went back to work. Because of this, kids were getting more wild and less respectful of adults. The school’s hands were tied at this point.
There was all this new wave of parenting books coming out, about being friends with your kids and “Oh, don’t say no to your children, that hurts their self-esteem.” Could you imagine, like my parents saying that, “Oh, I don’t want to say no, do whatever you want,” it just started to really shift. “You’re a good girl, even though you just kicked the cat across the room.” It is ridiculous, but this became the norm.
So, be friends with your kids. The schools, of course, are losing more and more power. Not only that, they are being asked to do more parenting. So, they had to start teaching kids about nutrition, about manners, even hygiene and sex. I thought that was appropriate, the hair gel she used, but I loved that movie.
The 90s are more of the 80s, but the big thing that really started to come in was computers. But back then, they were big clunky things. Usually, they were in a communal area where everyone could use them, and a lot of the gaming consoles came in.
So, what was happening here?
Parenting is going really downhill; they’re not providing their children with leadership. Then the computers are starting to take over. If you don’t provide your children with leadership, of course will turn somewhere else.
They were going towards all these gaming things, the games that were on there were violent, so it just started from there. You know, you look at a 12-year-old girl these days, and that’s pretty much what she looks like.
It’s like you can’t even I feel sorry for men who are looking at women. I saw a guy the other day, checking out this girl, and I said to him, “You know, she’s about 13 years old,” and he went, “No way! She’s like 25.”
I said, “No, she’s like 13, I just saw her in school the other day.”
So, he’s like running, you know, after that.
But the big difference with this: now we’ve got the Internet. I remember when my kids were younger, I used to go to these school meetings at night, where they’d say, “Here’s how you block your kids from seeing all this horrible stuff on the Internet.” I was at the back, laughing.
I thought, were we ever going to be able to outsmart young people when it came to technology? Like, what are we thinking? I was the only one that wasn’t going, “Oh, yes.” I was at the back, like, “This is useless.”
They’re always going to be smarter than us because to them, it isn’t technology. It’s just like buttering toast. It’s everyday to them.
But the big change was about six years ago, when I talked to this girl, it coincided. It came with the smartphones. All of a sudden, they had mobile technology. They were on the Internet for everything. That’s where they went; because they weren’t going to their parents.
So, where are they going to go? Not to the schools, they didn’t trust adults, they didn’t respect us. Oh, sorry about that silly slide, I don’t know what I was thinking. It was late when I did that.
What am I, like grade four? Anyway, what do all these decades have in common – every single one of them, and probably before that, too? It’s none of the parents were really talking to their kids about sex. None of them were.
You’d get the odd family who would do that, but overall, it just wasn’t discussed in families. I used to say to families, when my kids were growing up, how do you talk to your kids about sex? “Oh, I don’t do that. It’s just awkward. They go to school and learn that. Oh, it’s just so awkward.”
So, they don’t seem to do that. Because I am a parenting coach, I talk to a lot of families: none of them were talking to their kids about sex. They say, “Oh no, they had a guy talking about sex at their school the other day.” If they miss that day, they’re going to miss that talk, and they’ve only got so much information they can pack into two hours. They do a very good job, I’m not putting them down, but they always have that– we all know what that is.
They have a banana that they’re showing, and they put a condom on the banana. Then everyone laughs, and it gets awkward, and there’s a lot of stuff that’s missed. Where are they going for information on sex? They’re not talking to their parents, the sex speakers that come into schools are giving the minimal; of course, they’re going to pornography.
Every single parent that I’ve talked to of a teenager, all say, “Are they looking at porn?” Every single parent says, “I don’t think so. No, I don’t think so.”
Unfortunately, when I’m talking to their kids, it’s all confidential. So, I can’t tell them, but… Here again, I’m glad it’s not on video because I’m going… They told me that’s all they do: they’re up all night watching porn.
This is what they’re doing. The interesting thing that’s happening though is that younger and younger children are doing this because their older siblings are doing this, watching porn. It’s mobile.
An older sibling will put down a phone and not have it locked, and there will be some porn thing on there, an eight-year-old will come along and go, “Whew! What’s this?” And then they don’t have anyone to talk to because they know that’s “bad.” They can’t talk to Mom and Dad because no one does that, right?
So, they really are learning from pornography. How do I know they’re watching porn? They tell me all the time. I’ll even ask eight-year-olds. I say, “What do you look at on the Internet?” Sometimes they’ll tell me they’ve been watching, they call it “sexy stuff.” I don’t think it’s sexy OK, so they tell me they’re watching porn.
What’s interesting about this is when younger children see it, they haven’t got a clue what they’re looking at. They think – and this is true – they think that’s what Mommy and Daddy do. They think that that’s exactly what Mommy and Daddy are doing; so there could be threesomes or orgies. They’ve got this in their head that that is what’s happening.
You know where I’m going with this, right? I would say, the age group that is bald are probably anywhere from — it changes all the time.
I’m trying to keep up with all this stuff, but they really give me a run for my money, here – they are about 13 to 17, 18, 19. They’re pretty much all bold. Not necessarily sexually active. I’ll tell you a funny story. It’s not a funny story, it’s actually quite sad, but there’s a little bit of humor in it.
These parents hired me, and they said, “Our poor boy is like suicidal.” You know, I specialize in crisis. So, I said, “OK, I need to talk to him. Give me his Facebook page; I’ll organize a session with him.”
I’m talking to him, and I said, “What happened, sweetie, what’s going on?”
He says, “I’m getting bullied at school,” and I said, “Oh, that’s terrible! Tell me what’s going on; take me through a day.”
He said that it all started when he started in this new private boys’ school, very nice area, and they were in the locker room or the change room, and they were getting changed, and everyone was bald except him. All the boys were bald. They pointed at him and laughed, and the poor kid was labeled as “Hairy-something” – I can’t remember what the second thing was – but this poor kid was ostracized and bullied because he wasn’t shaving. Did we know this? I had no idea the stuff was going on.
That is a direct result of pornography. Where else do they get that idea from? Not the sex talker at school. Not Mom and Dad. That’s pornography OK, this is where it gets a little bit awkward for me because I’m a little bit uncomfortable sharing this stuff.
This is the least of the — an example of the least disgusting party game that is very common, and it’s called “rainbow parties”, I’m sure you maybe heard of this. I looked it up on Wikipedia the other day, and it said it’s an urban legend. It’s not. Kids are doing this.
The girls will go to a party – there’s, of course, drugs and alcohol involved – they’ll either do their lips that way or they will layer them in different colors. Then they drag their mouth down the guy’s penis, leaving a rainbow behind. If they don’t do that, then they have to drink two or three shots: it’s like a drinking game.
Lots of fun, eh? Crazy, crazy. And that’s one of the not so bad ones. I couldn’t even repeat some of the other ones. Too embarrassing.
How do we redefine the norm and change the way future generations view sex? I want to make it clear that not all kids are doing this, but it is the norm, and I think it’s only going to get worse.
As a matter of fact, I know it is, because over the last six years, it’s gotten worse and worse with my clients. All we have to do is talk. We start talking about sex with our kids. A lot of you here are younger, but you are the parents of tomorrow. You have to change what’s going on.
You have to talk to your kids about sex. It’s always awkward. I’ll tell you a funny story.
Well, one story; then another one; one leads to the other. I have two kids. My oldest was three, my son, and he’s just seen a girl naked for the very first time that day. I could see it in his face, he was really checking her out.
Later on, and I knew I had a journal, I used to write funny things in, so I knew it was going to come out that night.
So, he says to me, “Mommy, boys and girls are different, right?”
And I’m trying not to go, “Yeah!”, but I just said, “Yeah.”
He said, “Because boys have a bum in the back and a penis in the front.”
I said, “Right,” and he said, “And girls have a bum in the back and a tiny little bum in the front.” It’s true Really! Anyway, I thought I’d better have a talk with this boy.
So, I said, “Well, OK, you know, these are your private parts, they’re yours; you’re not allowed to let anyone else touch them.” You know, all the safety stuff.
And then I said, “But you can touch your private parts. That’s perfectly normal, everybody does it, but it’s private.”
He said, without skipping a beat, “Do you do it too, Mommy?”
I said, “Want to bake some cookies?”
My daughter is actually here today, but five years later she came to me, three years old, same conversation. I said, “Tada, tada, tada, it’s private, everyone does it.”
She says, “Do you do it too, Mommy?” Now, I had an eight-year-old by this time, I had progressed, I had grown. So my response to her was, “Want to bake some cookies?”
I couldn’t deal with it. But my point with that is it’s always going to be awkward and embarrassing. I’m not one of those people, even when I’m talking to teenagers, I don’t think it should be blasé.
I still think sex is– there’s an element: if it’s awkward to talk about it, it just is. It’s just natural to feel that way. So, when you are talking to kids though it’s a little bit– There’s a couple of rules that I tell my clients I say, “When you’re talking to kids, it’s age appropriate.” A three-year-old doesn’t need to know the same things as a 13-year-old.
Just say to them, “We’ll discuss it when you’re older.” That’s it, and then go bake some cookies, whatever.
But also: you don’t discuss your sex life. Your three-year-old does not need to know what Mom and Dad are doing rolling around in the hay. It’s just not necessary. They will ask questions though; it’s not appropriate.
So, in order to change the norm, I think we have to learn how to talk about it. And if you have to bake cookies, racks and racks of cookies, then do so, but don’t let that stop you from discussing these things with your children.
Thank you very much.