As I mentioned last week, during the time I was growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, we had limited access to telephones. Most of the communication that occurred between couples who were dating was in person. Parents were able to exercise a reasonable level of control over the amount of time their teenagers spent on dates by limiting the use of the family vehicle and by imposing curfews.
Today, most teenagers have their own cell phones and computers that they can use any time of the day or night to communicate with their friends.
A few years ago in an article entitled “The Passion Bridge,” I wrote about how at one time the Catholic Church taught that passionate kissing (commonly known as French kissing) was a grave sin. The reason for this was explained as follows:
While an unmarried male and female companion are allowed to show affection for each other that includes holding hands, hugging, appropriate touching and caressing, and regular kissing, they are forbidden from engaging in any activity that can lead to sexual arousal.
If you can imagine a large body of land separated by a river, the easiest way to get from one side of the river to the other side is by a bridge that connects the two sides. One side of the river is called the “Affection” side and the other side is called the “Arousal” side. While the Affection side of the river can be occupied by both married and unmarried couples, the Arousal side is reserved only for married couples.
Whether an unmarried couple knows it or not, once they engage in passionate kissing, they are automatically transported from the Affection side to the Arousal side. If the couple continues (over time) to engage in passionate kissing, they will eventually move on to other activities that are reserved only for married couples, such as necking and petting, inappropriate touching, and sexual intercourse. A young couple rarely crosses from the Affection side to the Arousal side without first engaging in passionate kissing.
The arousal that occurs as a result of passionate kissing is primarily the result of the physical contact that has taken place between the man and the woman; however, physical contact is not always necessary for arousal to occur.
A man can become physically aroused by viewing pornography, which can easily be done on his smartphone (a cell phone that is connected to the Internet). He can also become physically aroused by engaging in what is commonly referred to as “phone sex” with a woman.
Recent studies have shown that between 25 to 30 percent of 16 and 17-year-olds have engaged in “sexting,” which is generally defined as “the electronic sending of pictures depicting nudity.”
I don’t know what you call it when a couple engages in a sexually explicit conversation by exchanging texts on their cell phones or by posting comments online, but for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to call it “digital sex.” With the invention and widespread use of texting and social media, couples can engage in an ongoing sexually explicit conversation anytime, day or night.
I am more familiar with computers, the Internet, and social media than are many people my age (56), but I’m still shocked by what teenagers and college-age students post on Facebook and other social media sites. It’s not just the crude language that’s appalling; it’s the sheer number of comments that are laced with sexual innuendo.
Over the past few years, I’ve seen numerous comments on Facebook posted by teenagers who I know come from good Catholic homes. How do I know they’re from good Catholic homes? Because I know their parents. Yet, I’m certain that most of the parents have no idea what their children are posting on Facebook.
One recent study showed that one in five marriages breaks up because of an affair that started with an online relationship. After the initial meeting online, these relationships quickly progress to sexually explicit conversations. When the couple finally meets in person, they are already intimately familiar with each other, so they have no problem immediately becoming physically intimate.
The same thing is occurring with a large percentage of teenagers in our country. They have been conditioned by the media, their peers, and their celebrity idols to believe that it’s cool and hip to think about, talk about, and act out their sexual desires through online communications.
The digital sex that is occurring between teenage boys and girls on a regular basis is extremely destructive. It was Gandhi who said, “Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.”
If you’re a parent with a teenage daughter in your home, what would you say if you found out she let her boyfriend climb through the window into her bedroom at 1:00 in the morning, while you were asleep? Instead of the boyfriend entering your home through a window, what would you say if he Skyped with your daughter at 1:00 in the morning? What would you say if your daughter developed the habit of texting with her boyfriend at 1:00 in the morning?
Obviously you would be relieved that she was texting instead of inviting him inside through the window, but what if most of their conversations over Skype and through texting consisted of sexually charged language that spelled out in specific detail what they were going to do in the future when they were together?
The dictionary defines a “date” as “an appointment to meet at a specified time” or “a social engagement between two persons that often has a romantic character.” While a teenage girl may not be willing to admit it, Skyping or texting with a boy she has feelings for is a date.
The point I’m trying to get to here is that if you have teenagers in your home — especially daughters — you need to be willing to have dating rules in place concerning the use of computers and cell phones (digital dating). The most obvious rule is a curfew on the use of cell phones and computers.
By curfew, I mean they turn over their phone and laptop to you at a designated time, such as 11:00 p.m. on weekdays and 12:00 a.m. on weekends.
If you believe I’m being too extreme concerning the imposition of a digital curfew, you won’t like it when I tell you that you should also insist on having your teenagers’ passwords to all the social media sites they use, such as Facebook, Skype, and Twitter. Of course, it’s your obligation as their parent to periodically view their text messages and log into their accounts to see what they’re up to.
But what if your teenager screams, Absolutely not! That’s an invasion of my privacy! Don’t you trust me?
Although your teenagers do have certain God-given rights to individual privacy, such as the right to be allowed to undress and shower in private, they do not have a right to privacy concerning the people they are keeping company with. And yes, because of their lack of experience, maturity, and wisdom, you do not yet completely trust their behavior. As a parent, you have an obligation to find out whom your teenagers are interacting with and the level of influence those individuals may be attempting to exercise over them. You have no way of finding out this information without some level of oversight.
In our young and ever-growing digital age, the job of parenting is becoming much more challenging.