True Love & Sexuality - Middle School version
June 22, 2014 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend - her 12 year old son is "in love" with a 12 year old girl. Hormones are active and kids are definitely interested in doing more than just holding hands. My friend is struggling to figure out reasonable rules on dating behavior, especially since in her culture, children this young simple don't date and yet here in sunny California the rules seem to be different. Complications inside.

To make things more complicated, the parents are divorced. The other parent will simultaneously (i) allow the son unsupervised visits with girl friend and (ii) blame my friend in court for any "misbehavior" by the son. Obviously, my friend has been dealing with the ex for years but in this situation she wants to be extra careful that her standards are reasonable. The girl friend's parents are involved but clearly have more relaxed standards than my friend.

So, we are asking the hive mind, what standards/rules/behaviors are reasonable for 12 year old American lovers? Kissing? Snuggling under a blanket? Petting over the clothes? Touching inside the clothes? Nudity? Oral sex? Intercourse? Help!
posted by metahawk to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

What??? How about a kiss, and that's it. No nudity, no making out. No oral sex.

Kids this young are horn dogs, but they don't have brain development to process complex love and sex emotions. Do them a favor, chaperone the hell out of them and don't let them have the freedom to make a huge mistake.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:50 PM on June 22, 2014 [57 favorites]

My parents were generally on the looser end of things (and I received really good sex education that went beyond here are the parts and the diseases you can get to 'it's better if you really love the person'), but I wasn't allowed to have anything resembling an unsupervised date until 17ish. They may have lowered that to 16 for my brother, but they still strongly encouraged the culture of group dating and required doors to be open and 3 feet on the ground at all times (and an adult to be home) until we were in college.

I would say make sure he has really good sex education AND a really rock solid understanding of no means no and absolutely not to push her beyond what she's comfortable with.

And then I would say she should enforce what she's comfortable with and probably make it a step back from what she'd allow push boundaries at that age.
posted by eleanna at 4:57 PM on June 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

When my daughter was that age, she had a boyfriend, and I spent a lot of time examining my own values and what felt right and reasonable. I also talked to many other parents of kids this age to get their ideas of appropriate behavior.

I talked to her a lot about the emotional and psychological aspects of love and sex. And I had some hard and fast rules:

- No closed doors of any room they were in together
- Never at either home without an adult there
- No one-on-one dates, only group outings
- Frequent phone contact with me when she was out
- I had to ALWAYS know where she went

She was pissed at me much of the time, but I held firm. It was hard to walk a very fine line between being open and honest to establish a trusting relationship with her and setting limitations. She pushed and pushed those boundaries, and it was sometimes tempting to let her convince me, but for the most part I resisted. Mostly, lots and lots of communication and checking in.
posted by primate moon at 5:07 PM on June 22, 2014 [22 favorites]

What evidence does your friend have that a horny 12-year old boy is going to follow whatever rules of behaviour are laid down for him? If she believes that she can just set standards and forget about it, then there's a problem. Making sure he's safe, smart and responsible are probably the things to worry about than attempting to impose rules of "how far he can go".
posted by Jimbob at 5:08 PM on June 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

I had a boyfriend when I was 12, but we spent more time running around in costumes roleplaying Star Trek: The Next Generation characters than we did kissing. YMMV.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:28 PM on June 22, 2014 [10 favorites]

At 11/12 my "boyfriend" and I maybe held hands. We had a date at the local pizza shop (with my mom "chaperoning" from across the street because she was cool). I don't think we even remotely thought about doing more..
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 5:36 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Yeah, these days in California 12-year-old dating can range from holding hands to full on sex. They could be up to anything, unfortunately, and these days it's more "cool" to escalate rather than not. I think the goal you want to shoot for is "no genitalia contact" (if you can pull that off). Above the waist, not below the waist. Nothing that can pass on an STD or pregnancy.

Much as I hate to say "get the kid condoms just in case," uh...he's having a lot of alone time with the girl that you can't prevent and it could happen. What is also unfortunate is that it sounds like other than your friend, the three other parents involved aren't going to do much of anything to set and enforce boundaries. My suggestion would be that your friend talk to her son a lot about how a pregnancy at 12 years old is going to mess up the rest of his life and generally make him understand that right now is not the time to start taking those risks. I don't think your friend has much control over this situation if nobody else is going to try to rein the kids in, so her best move is to convince her son that it's HIS decision and the right decision to not deal with the potential heavy consequences at this age.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:41 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

My daughter is 12, and we live in New York. So far as I'm concerned, any relationships she has for the next two to three years will allow no contact that is not a) over an electronic device, or b) occurring in a non-private setting, such as school or the mall.

If the kid seemed like the good kind, he'd be welcome to come over to our house for dinner, but only in public spaces in the house -- no freaking way in a bedroom. No PDA. No blankets, no petting.

I'd be super, super concerned that at 12 the kids wouldn't be super clear on consent and boundaries, so I wouldn't want either child in a position where the boundaries in play aren't very, very clear cut.
posted by Andrhia at 5:44 PM on June 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

Best answer: At that age, for me the MO was: group dates to public places or friends' houses, with parents dropping us off and picking us up. Some kids did end up sleeping together, but they weren't the norm and the couples that went that far were usually younger girls with older (high school) guys. For me and for most of the kids I knew, the physical affection was pretty much just kissing, holding hands, sitting on his lap or otherwise cuddling (if that -- for many couples in middle school, "going out" didn't mean being physically affectionate at all). All of us talked about oral sex and "doing it" but at that age, we just weren't ready. Giving him condoms just in case can't do any harm, though. They're unlikely to be the deciding factor, especially for the girl.

I would honestly be more supportive about the romantic side of it. If the boy says he's in love, maybe he would enjoy giving his girlfriend flowers or love notes or making other romantic gestures? Something that was always wonderful for me as a kid and helped me keep my feet on the ground in terms of our relationship was to be involved with my SO's family and invited to dinner, family BBQs -- ways the son's best friend might have also or might still be involved with the family. I'd strongly recommend that, too, as a bonding experience between the son and his mom if nothing else. It makes a lot of sense for your friend to feel trepidation about the physical side of the relationship, but being open and joyful about falling in love, and treating the person you love with respect and kindness, is something to be encouraged in kids, I think.
posted by rue72 at 6:33 PM on June 22, 2014 [12 favorites]

When I was in middle school a million years ago, twelve was wanting to kiss, maybe some kind of "second base" situation, but I'm pretty sure none of my peers were really contemplating anything beyond that. It was definitely an era where, if you were "dating", it was heavily in air quotes, and for the most part you were allowed to hang out unchaperoned, because like come on, what is really going to happen. Kissing or touching a breast really isn't that big of a deal, and nobody even contemplated that we were going to actually have sex. The idea of being actually nude or under covers with a boy just seemed like insanely grown up and not actually an option, at all.

However, I don't know, maybe kids are "faster" nowadays, or maybe your kid is, or that's the culture you're living in. Who am I to judge?

I'll also say that, as someone who is bi, I had drastically more sexual experiences with my female peers simply because nobody thought anything of two twelve year old girls spending time alone together with the bedroom door shut, showering together, sleeping in the same bed, etc. Boys, on the other hand, were a foreign country.

The questions you're asking here feel much more like late high school type questions, and not really middle school relevant. At least from my own experience of how this stuff goes down. So to speak.

I guess what I'm saying is that you guys should sit down and think about how much of this is really a real problem, and how much of this is ammo between mom and dad disapproving of how things are at the other parent's house. Because seriously my peers and I (in the 90s) were not even remotely engaging in anything that would need to result in anybody bringing anybody to family court. It was like are you allowed to go to the movies with a boy unchaperoned.
posted by Sara C. at 6:51 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

All of my friends parents are very much the "subaru and granola, gardening in crocs" kind of middle class vaguely eco-hippie types because i live in seattle, but i know more people now in their mid 20s than not who were already doing sexual stuff at this age. In fact, my ex from when i was in college snarkily commented that she felt weird when she was that age and hadn't had sex yet... because all her friends had.

Especially considering the "to make things more complicated" list of issues, they are going to have sex. It's a matter of when, not if. So this becomes a "if you can't take the bullets out of the gun, put on a bulletproof vest" sort of situation.

Most of my male friends parents, and my parents sat us down and said "Look, we know you're probably going to end up doing this. put on a fucking condom and don't be an idiot" and outlined consequences of what kind of stuff could happen.

I feel like you can make all the rules you want, but as long as they have a space they can regularly go in which they have no rules then it's all for naught and will just cause angst and frustration. Because yea, one of the things i remember most clearly about being 12-14 were that anything me or a friend wasn't allowed to do at home, but they could go somewhere else and do... they'd just go over there and do it. Which is to say, i pretty much agree with jimbob here.

I think a good discussion about consent, coercion, and not pushing people to do things they don't want to do is in order here too... because in talking to people reflecting back on it, that was a big problem with sexual stuff in pretty much everyone i knows early teens.
posted by emptythought at 6:59 PM on June 22, 2014 [5 favorites]

As Emptythought said about teaching children, especially boys, about coercion and consent. Especially that NO means NO! And that a yes after many no's is a big fat NO, not a yes, as the person has probably just said yes because it's obvious the person asking won't take no for an answer.
posted by Ranting Prophet of DOOM! at 7:19 PM on June 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

As someone who went through middle school in the early 90s - and now teaches middle school - I can confirm that there is some naïveté in this thread. Things done changed.

Some middle school kids now are insanely more mature than kids were 20 years ago. They have unfettered internet access and they've seen it all. No restrictions on the movies they watch and video games they play. Girls dress provocatively. They are widely exposed to adult culture and they soak it up and try to act as grown as possible. Even the damn songs they listen to on the radio are pornographic. Unfortunately, they still have 12 yo brains.

There are certainly 12yo couples that are happy to hold hands, kiss, and write Doctor Who fanfic together. There are also 12yo couples that are pushing boundaries like crazy, smoking weed and having sex. I guess you need to figure out which variety you have and set boundaries from there. But don't assume anything is off the table for them simply because they are 12.
posted by gnutron at 7:25 PM on June 22, 2014 [18 favorites]

Best answer: She has to deliberately and explicitly teach this stuff to her with an ex like that. She has no control over her son's environment and structure for a big chunk of time, and a lot of the responsibility. If she had full custody, she could do things a lot more gently over time.

She needs to make sure the kid has books on safe sex that are age appropriate. Beyond Perfectly Normal. Living with a Willy was a big hit for my kids around the same age - straightforward language, no embarrassing pictures if mum read it (mum must read it too, not with the kid but so she can discuss it) and covered a lot of ground quickly. I would also get the equivalent for girls, and books on dating ettiquette. Scarleteen is my go-to website and she should get him reading there as a resource and discuss questions.

Sadly there are no contraceptives for teenage boys. I believe in explicitly teaching kids how to access contraception. I have condoms in the shared bathroom medicine cabinet with a post-it note on them that says "We love you and want you to make responsible choices that keep you safe. Remember respect and love matters most", as well as explaining how to buy them, the cost etc. One of my kids had been told by a friend that only doctors could sell them!

Ground the rules in respect and affection for both her son and his partners, now and in the future. Not just respect for the girl, but for himself. Boys get pressured into sexting and sex too, and they get humiliated if they don't want to have sex or aren't ready because they're not 'real men' or grown-up, or their girlfriend feels rejected (teenage girls have sex drives too and can be pushy) and they don't know how to say no or slow down when everyone is telling them that teenage boys only want sex.

Group dates and daytime dates at 12 only, phone calls and texting - does she have a privacy agreement about phones/net with her kid? Mine at that age was that mama would randomly spot-check your phone and frequent discussions about online grooming and how naked pictures live forever on the internet and aren't secret.

She can't stop her ex's stupidity, but she can set up communication and trust with her kid, lots of understanding and safety around sex so that when disaster comes, her son will come to her for help and it will be a smaller issue.

She should also talk to the girlfriend's parents explicitly and say hey, what are your rules? Have you had the contraception talk with her?

And if they are assholes and say oh we trust her, she doesn't need to know that yet, while letting their kid date around with no support, I think she should get a good sex ed book for girls and give it to the girl outright when she's at her house and say read this, leave it here if you don't want your parents to see it. Any questions, talk to me and if you need to see a doctor but you can't talk to your parents, come talk to me.

I hate undermining other parents' authorities but letting a 12 year old be sexually active while in denial is just too risky to stand by, especially with your own kid involved. She needs to decide when to call in the other parents - STD, pregnancy scare, actual pregnancy, contraception, plus the legal issues. In California, it seems that 12 and over kids can access contraception and reproductive health stuff without parental consent or notice, so she's clear legally if she helps the son's girlfriend go on the pill, although the other parents will go ballistic.

That's further on hopefully from where she is now, but she should think through this so when it does happen, she's the Calm Confident Mom, not responding in a panic.
posted by viggorlijah at 8:06 PM on June 22, 2014 [9 favorites]

One tack to take might be that it's actually against the law for underaged kids to have sex, even consensually. I don't know California law, and it might just be a misdemeanor if they are both young, but that still can involve legal tangles and possibly create custody issues, something he would probably not want to go through again. Let the son know that sex is an adult act and it can have big consequences, even if you avoid pregnancy and STDs. And he can't control what might happen if the girl's parents were to suddenly decide to report it.
posted by emjaybee at 8:08 PM on June 22, 2014

I'm absolutely with jenfullmoon and emptythought, other advisors are living in the past.

Education is the ONLY thing that's actually going to do any good. Open his eyes to consequences, and make absolutely sure both that he can accept "no" gracefully, and understands and can use contraception. Of course, use dissuasion, but don't be an idiot and think that at 12 things are sure to stay non-sexual.
posted by anadem at 8:09 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'll underline the fact that, in a lot of ways, the "this was not a thing at all" aspect of my own upbringing is that it wasn't allowed to be, not because it just never could have happened at all. There was no way ever in a million billion years that any parents would even remotely entertain the notion of leaving a 12 year old hetero couple (even in air quotes!) alone at home for any length of time. Alone in a bedroom with the door closed was not allowed. One on one nighttime dates were not allowed. Coed sleepovers were not allowed. Lots of unstructured alone time was not allowed. Free roaming around town without adult supervision was not allowed. Etc Etc Etc. And when I say not allowed, I mean it just did not happen. Period.

I'm sure a few very ambitious kids came up with ways to steal away and become sexually active, but it was much less of an omnipresent problem than young girls dating much older more experienced high school guys.

If anything, assuming other parents in your peer group are on the same page in terms of what is allowed, I would mostly be worried about phones and internet. Which were the places that my friends and I did get up to anything and everything, at incredibly young ages, because there wasn't that omnipresent parental monitoring that happened when they could police where we went and who we spent time with.
posted by Sara C. at 8:22 PM on June 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was not "allowed" to have sex at 14, but I did it anyway. Of course I wasn't ready and there were disastrous consequences. What I would have appreciated along with the setting of the boundary was a welcoming of questions, discussion, and ongoing honest advice about my feelings and desires.

Setting the boundary--whatever it's going to be--isn't enough.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 8:37 PM on June 22, 2014 [11 favorites]

Lots of unstructured alone time was not allowed. Free roaming around town without adult supervision was not allowed. Etc Etc Etc. And when I say not allowed, I mean it just did not happen. Period.

We had lots of unstructured free time and roaming (and weed smoking and drinking), but sex at that age was still very rare. Some kids *were* sexually active, we had at least one pregnant girl in every grade of the middle school as a matter of course and teen pregnancy was very common in general, but smoking/drinking/hanging-out-being-idiots didn't really go hand-in-hand with sex generally. I've worked in my district since (after college), with kids that age and in high school, and if anything, they're more "wholesome" now. But that could be really regional or particular to a particular social milieu. For context, I went to an urban and minority-majority school, and everyone I knew well was give-or-take working class. Even back then, the kids who transferred in from suburban or private schools tended to be less naive in some ways, and sex was one of them, so I think that there might be a significant range. Though still wanted to put in the two cents that if the kid seems really interested in romance and intimacy with this girl rather than sex, it's a good idea to make sure he's prepared to make safe choices about sex but I wouldn't completely negate or fail to guide his need/interest in romance and emotional intimacy by ignoring that in favor of focusing much more on the sex or just on the physical/practical aspects of sex.
posted by rue72 at 8:44 PM on June 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

In fact, my ex from when i was in college snarkily commented that she felt weird when she was that age and hadn't had sex yet... because all her friends had.

I don't want to discount the reality of sexual activity at that age, but I strongly recall that being an age filled with non-stop bull shitting coupled with incredibly underdeveloped B.S. detectors. Just something to consider in terms of secondhand anecdotes from tweens...
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 8:54 PM on June 22, 2014 [8 favorites]

So, we are asking the hive mind, what standards/rules/behaviors are reasonable for 12 year old American lovers? Kissing? Snuggling under a blanket? Petting over the clothes? Touching inside the clothes? Nudity? Oral sex? Intercourse? Help!

Umm, okay. I don't have kids. But I have a 12-year-old (Australian, but I don't think that makes a huge difference niece) niece, and friends with 12-year-old kids, and my answer to this is: none of the above. '12 year old American lovers'?? Even the terminology weirds me out: you don't have a 'lover' when you're 12. Because you are a child.

They should never be alone in a way that it's possible for them to do more than hold hands or kiss.

That's the standards/rules/behaviours that I think are 'reasonable'. Obviously, everyone's mileage varies.
posted by Salamander at 8:55 PM on June 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

When my daughter was that age, I gave her condoms and a copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," and an open door policy.

She later confessed to me that she had tried sex with a 13-year-old boy at a sleepover (I thought it was a family Christmas thing!) and she didn't want to do it again until later. Then we talked about boundaries and she did come to me again when a guy at work was pushing them. About age 16.

I would say sex education is the first thing. And then, no, don't leave them alone (I had never thought my daughter would be left alone, but apparently, she was). Watch them and give them nice activities together, kissing is okay but sex is not at that age, in my opinion. If they're not old enough to support a baby, they're not old enough to have unprotected sex. But you can't keep kids from feeling things. So watch them and given them activities to do that will allow the adults to keep them from doing the deed. Preferably hard work.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:14 PM on June 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Viggorlijah has some excellent advise. I just want to ad that even without an ex like that, even when she has firm rules about spending one-on-one time together, or even when she explicitly forbids them to have sex, even when the kids are not really interested in sex yet, she has to talk about it with her son (and maybe his girlfriend too). They are eventually going to have sex, maybe not now, maybe not with each other, maybe not even in the next ten years and if they really want to, they are going to have sex anyway, rules or not. She should make sure they can always talk to her about this or have resources available for them if they really don't want to talk about it with their parents (which is understandable). Teaching kids about sex is often seen as a way to 'prepare' kids to have sex, but it can also help them make an informed decision to wait until they're both ready.
posted by leopard-skin pill-box hat at 12:30 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

You know if they want to have sex they will do it. Believe it or not 12 year olds were even doing it 20 years ago, or more! The role of adults isn't to stick their head in the sand but to provide education. Now is the time to explain to her about negotiating feelings and boundaries. Now is the time to make sure they have condoms and/or the pill. Make sure they know about the Scarleteen website.

(I will never understand why Americans cannot come to terms with young people having sex.)
posted by inkypinky at 3:16 AM on June 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

When my little brother was on a class trip in seventh grade, two kids were found in bed together. So that's one example of tweens doing (or at least attempting) something sexual. Of course, a lot of the "we did it" stories are actual BS, though, but don't discount peer pressure. Maybe now would be a good time to talk to the son about peer pressure and how much of what other kids tell him is probably exaggerated, if not outright untrue.
Also, as others have said, give him the safe sex and consent talk anyway. I remember my school started sex ed in eigth or nineth grade, which was obviously too late. (I had a pregnant classmate in nineth grade.) Even if you don't want your kids to have sex at that age (who would?!), assume that if they want to do it, they will.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 3:43 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Educate, educate, educate.

Talk to him about consent, emotions and body anatomy. Actually, talk to both of them, have your friend establish yourself as source of information and understanding, not condemnation. Be open and direct about what your expectations and why young children should not be having sex (Society doesn't want your driving before 16, it sure as hell doesn't want indulging in behavior that could lead to STD or pregnancy)

Talk to the girl's parents and try to establish some consist rules across the various locations. No visiting while adults aren't home, no closed doors(or only hang out in public places in the house), complete respect of the other person's feeling and desires. Otherwise trying to micromanage exactly what they do sounds a bit insane and impractical.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:13 AM on June 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to add: the role of adults who are their parents is to provide kids with guidance on what is right and wrong, not just factual education and birth control. Kids have more access to raw information than at any other time in history; what they need is a person who has their best interests at heart to help them make decisions they won't regret later on.

Just because our culture accepts the sexualisation of children at an increasingly young age, doesn't mean you have to go along with it. You're allowed to choose the standards for your own child.

So sure, educate them, but I think you need to go further than that. Unless you think that having sex at 12 is physically and emotionally healthy, you need to put active measures in place to protect your child. It might be difficult, but it's not only within your rights as a parent, it's your job.
posted by Salamander at 4:35 AM on June 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

I realize that there may be pressure out there for kids to experiment sexually, even at 12. I guaran-damn-tee you that none of these kids is really happy about it, or wants to be involved sexually.

I think that if parents are allowing this shit to happen that they are falling down on the job. This is what you say, "I understand that you love Kaitlin, she's a lovely young lady, and I know your hormones are doing the cha-cha 24/7. That doesn't make you ready for sex. Part of puberty is knowing what you're body is ready for, versus what your brain is ready for. And I know that sometimes you feel ready for sex, but please believe me, your brain just isn't there yet. I love you too much to allow you to come out of middle-school with fucked up ideas about love and sex."

I was well supervised at that age, and while it pissed me off, because I thought I was grown, I was so relieved to NOT have to make those kind of adult decisions.

Sure, they may try stuff, and you should discuss sex openly and frankly, and for sure cover consent and coercion, but always with the explicit statements that "as your parent, I do not approve or condone it."

The reason 12-year olds are having sex is because their parents aren't protecting them adequately, not because 12 is the new age of consent.

Think about it, what good decisons has your 12-year-old made lately?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:25 AM on June 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Just throwing some statistics out there to give a sense of "normal," from this site:

Recent tween sex statistics show that about six percent of students have sex before the age of 13. Tween sex statistics also report that tween-age boys are more likely to have sex than their female counterparts.

Tween sex statistics also show that teens under the age of 14 (tweens about 11-14) are beginning to dabble in sexual experiences. About 20 percent of tweens engage in some type of sexual activity.

The CDC also has raw data that shows you what percentage of kids have had sex before the age of 13, last collected in 2013. California doesn't report as a whole, but most urban centers in California are represented -- Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco -- and those numbers tend to be slightly less than the national average. Compare with Tennessee, where over 13% of boys report having sex by age 13. (Not sure if the link will go to the right chart, you might need to mess with the drop-down boxes to find it.)

This would support the idea "it definitely happens," and if you think it doesn't you're fooling yourself, but it's also really, really not the baseline norm for twelve-year-olds to be getting it on.
posted by Andrhia at 5:27 AM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Young sex is happening enough that with an ex who allows unsupervised visits and is actively unwilling to help enforce good healthy boundaries for a teenager in love that she can't rely on the time she's with him to be enough though. Doesn't matter what a great and careful mom she is when the kid's with her with an ex like that.

Yay to you guys who have the luxury of parenting time and child personality and community support to extend that safe zone for your kids to grow up a little more gently and with more innocence. But if you can't do that, respectful and comprehensive sex and relationship education is a damn sight better than crossing your fingers and hoping for the best.
posted by viggorlijah at 5:49 AM on June 23, 2014

Mod note: Just a reminder to all that we need to be addressing the OP and helping to answer the question, not debating other answers, or just generally chatting about the topic. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:38 AM on June 23, 2014

Seems to be the ex- is a red herring if he refuses to go along with your friend's rules, because that means there is no "reasonable" for him. "Reasonable" also can't mean what the children think is reasonable, right? Who cares what a 12-year-old wants to do if it's a bad idea? Who cares what his classmates will say about her if he complains about a harsh rule?

So, I think the answer is that your friend should adopt the unreasonable standard of whatever she privately thinks is best based on her superior knowledge of her son and herself, even it takes some time alone to think it over.
posted by michaelh at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you have an opportunity to teach the kid that relationships are not all about sex. Yes, you should teach them about sex, boundaries, and contraception, but they should also learn about inclusion. Teh girlfriend should be invited to family holidays or get togethers, you could do things like take them to the mall with you and let them wander alone and meet back up in 2 hours, take them to a theme park and just have check in times, etc. Treat the girlfriend as one of his regular friends, just with shorter periods of unsupervised time, no bedroom time, and no sleepovers. Allow them to kiss and hug hello and goodbye without being teh sex police, but definitely don't let them have whole afternoons alone at home and such. Sex at 12 is not a reasonable allowance or expectation.

I had a younger brother that was assigned to my beat at that age, if that's a tactic you can employ to keep them from being alone for too long.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:16 PM on June 23, 2014

Best answer: Your friend is in a difficult situation, mainly because a boy whose parents are having a difficult divorce might very well act out by experimenting with adult activities like drinking, smoking and sex.
I'm living in Scandinavia, where it would be unimaginable for parents to restrict their children's activities (unless the parents are Catholic or Muslim). I don't restrict my girls' activities. They can sleep over at boys' houses if they want to. What we do is educate. Educate about sex and pregnancy, about STDs, about boundaries, about feelings. As a result, only 5% of under-14s try out any form of sex. These few kids are most often kids with less access to knowledge than other kids - poor, with religious or ignorant parents and those living in isolated communities.
Our kids hate sex-ed. It's embarrassing. Not least when it comes from parents. Actually, I think most of us parents hate it too, I do. But it works. Unfortunately, it works best if one starts early - when the kids are about ten. But I think it is still worth a try for your friend.
Most of my friends who have boys have condoms in a bathroom cupboard, where the boys can "find" them. But as said, they rarely turn out to be useful before the boys are slightly more mature.
posted by mumimor at 12:22 PM on June 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I strongly agree with Sara C. and Salamander. We are shaping reality by our words and actions. Sure, kids these days have more access to nudity and porn than past generations, but that is no reason to just let kids do whatever they want. We have to make and enforce rules. And I don't think that having sex at age 12 is appropriate. Sexuality might be developing at an earlier age, but overall mental/emotional/intellectual maturity still develops around late teens or even early twenties.

I also want to add one aspect that no one touched on yet, but that is relevant in my experience - it is class. Growing up middle or upper class, it was (and it still is) a faux pas to have sex that early. Both, for the parents to allow it and for the kids to do it. You bet all the kids in my school had little to no unstructured/unsupervised time and were not allowed alone time with the opposite gender. I knew about one boy in the neighborhood who fathered a child at age 13 or 14, his parents were divorced blue collar folks.

Another thing that I noticed is that you mentioned your friend's culture. Is she a recent immigrant? Or the boy's father? There are cultures where dating (the American style) is not common, especially not for teenagers. Many cultures are not openly talking about sex either. Is the boy's father from such a culture? This could add another layer of pressure to the situation. I think your friend should try to get the father on board, so both of them can monitor that their son sticks to the rules. If the father is from a culture where sex ed is not common, I encourage your friend to also give reading material to him and to bring her ex up to speed of what good sex ed looks like.

Education is key. Your friend's son might feel very strong sexual urges. Teach him it's okay to masturbate. Teach him sex in porn is not (necessarily) like sex in reality. That sex should ideally happen within a relationship (in my opinion, I know people disagree. But polyamory et. al might be a tough concept at age 12). That relationships are far more than just sex. That your partner should make you feel loved and respected. That you should feel safe and free to express yourself in the relationship. Teach him about consent and abuse, his anatomy and the female anatomy, STIs and sexual health, the different kinds of contraception and how to access it. About the risk of pregnancy and the reality of abortion.
Your friend's goal should be to raise a self aware, sex positive kid, who is not afraid to ask his parents for help.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:30 PM on June 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just throwing some statistics out there to give a sense of "normal," from this site:

I just wanted to jump in to say that while the stats there appear to be well sourced, the takeaway message is much more alarmist than most press on those same datasets. For comparison, here's the Guttamacher Institute's press release on teen & preteen sex statistics from last month.

There are (and always have been) a lot of scare stories out there about adolescent sexuality, but almost all the big metrics - teen pregnancy, sex before age 13, sex with multiple partners, and even % of high schoolers who've ever had intercourse - have been on the decline in the U.S. for over two decades. When you slice that down by geographic areas, it's strongly linked with formal sex education.

So the % of preteens having some sexual activity may be going up, but in contrast to many of the dire takes on adolescent sexuality in this thread, I think it's important to point out that the general trend in this country is towards less risky behavior.
posted by deludingmyself at 3:28 PM on June 23, 2014

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