As the parent of a 14 year old girl, parental notification worries me. My daughter can come to me with anything, but I don't know if she believes that. She is very open with me about the important issues, but sometimes she fears disappointing me. And I did inherit an Irish temper. But, damn, it's my kid and I would want to be informed! But something happened that reminded me that parental notification is not a good policy.
DEAR ABBY: From time to time, you tell young women who think they might be pregnant and are afraid to tell their parents, to do so. I usually do not write letters like this, but I need to express my personal experience. I am a minister. Several years ago, I worked for Planned Parenthood and we had a young girl -- around 13 years of age -- test positive for pregnancy. We urged her to tell her parents, but she kept refusing, insisting, "Dad will kill me!"
Of course, we knew better, and finally convinced her that the best thing was to tell her parents, have the baby, and get on with her life.
Her father beat her so badly that she was in the hospital for more than a month. She lost the baby because of the beating and ended up in foster care.
I will never again tell a young person that her parents will not go crazy, and I don't think you should do that either. Thanks, Abby. I enjoy your column. -- REGRETFUL IN FLORIDA
DEAR REGRETFUL: Thank you for the warning. Even though we wish all teenagers could disclose to their parents, as your letter illustrates, it is a sad reality that some of them cannot. And we, who care about young people, have to first be concerned with their safety. Although most young girls do involve their families, there will always be some who are unable to do so.
For that reason, I do not believe that parental notification should be mandated by law. And because sex education is no longer taught in as many states as it had been before, I strongly urge parents to begin talking to their children early about the facts of life and their personal value systems, in order to create a safe and comfortable environment should a crisis occur.
I received an interesting phone call from the mother of my daughter's best friend. It seems my little darling decided she should explain what oral sex is to her friend (another 14 year old) who had no clue. The best friend went to her mother for clarification. The mother freaked and called me hysterically.
When I got to the crux of it all, my daughter had only repeated what I had told her. I have been brutally honest with my kid about sex. I don't trust the schools, with their watered down sex ed classes, to really explain it. I believe more kids experiment about sex because they don't know about it. I don't know if this is true, but I know my kid. And an informed decision is always better.
It seems her friend's mother believes in the "If we pretend it doesn't exist, it won't happen in our home" theory of child rearing. My answer is that if a parent doesn't teach his/her daughter about sex, then the daughter's first boyfriend will. And which is preferable? She didn't answer, but she has been very cold to me since then. Oh well, no great loss.
Which brings me back to parental notification. If I found out my daughter was sexually active, I would take her to the GYN and get her on birth control and make sure she knew how to use condoms correctly. Because I know I can't control a teenager. She will do what she wants when I'm not around. I believe teenage sex is a mistake, but at least she would only be making one mistake, not two more (teenage pregnancy and STDs). If she was pregnant, I'd make sure she got the best medical care (either abortion or prenatal--her choice).
But I think her best friend's mother wouldn't do that. I don't think they would hurt her physically, but her parents live in a fantasyland. And it is for teens in those homes that parental notification is wrong.
Also, my daughter knows that if she ever has a problem that she doesn't want to discuss with me, she has two other adults that will help her, and keep it confidential. I've explained to both of these women (my sister and a friend who is like a sister) that if she ever calls them, and asks that they not tell me, that's OK with me.
I still worry about her, but I feel I've armed her with knowledge, and given her a safety net. I don't know what else a parent can do.