Remember that old commercial? A beautiful scene on the front porch swing of a country farmhouse, "Mom, do you ever get that not so fresh feeling?". It was a cheesy and unrealistic take on mothers and daughters having intimate discussions.
I was recently sent, for review, a copy of The Body Scoop For Girls by a CBS News contributor and M.D., Ob-Gyn, Jennifer Ashton, a specialist whose NY practice is centered on the treatment of girls from age 13 through their early twenties.
Dr. Ashton has put together what she calls 'a straight talk guide to a healthy beautiful you', covering every topic from puberty and health to abusive relationships and everything in between.
Having now finished reading it, I can only say that I have less than positive feelings about it and I certainly won't be handing it to any of my daughters to read, without at least removing a few pages first. Nor would I recommend it for my reader's daughters without the same creative editing.
Don't get me wrong. There is much useful information to be had in this reference guide. There is much information that is important and should be shared with adolescents and teens, but there is also much information that I, as a mother with 16 years experience, feel is left out, inaccurate or plain and simple misleading.
There are good tips on personal grooming and changes to be expected during adolescence and puberty. There is great information about taking care of yourself for the long term, but there is also much information that I feel is not appropriate or incomplete.
Dr. Ashton speaks of her private practice and the need to treat a patient with respect and knowledge of complete information, for teens are smart, savvy and more worldly than ever before. I couldn't agree more, but feel that she leaves out important details. I also feel that she takes it a little far at times. Although a proponent of girls waiting until they are of legal adulthood to engage in sex, Dr. Ashton states that in her practice that includes younger girls also, "...I'll expect you to use your own best judgment and I'll treat you accordingly, with respect for the choices you make"(page 6).
It's one thing to say, 'I'll treat you medically appropriate and not with any less personal respect, for I can not control your actions or decisions, but I can help keep you healthy.', but it is a ludicrous statement to 'respect the choice' of a 15 or 13 year old girl to engage in sex. Let alone to continue a few pages later with, don't worry, I'll never tell your parents. Would the decision to skip school be respected? What about a decision to smoke, drink or use recreational drugs, would they be respected choices? Are those behaviors any less dangerous to engage in or is it a matter of 'just make sure you use a clean needle'?
On the topic of Doctor patient confidentiality, Dr. Ashton touts on page 12:
"By Law, I am not allowed to tell your parents if you are sexually active or not. They can pound on my door and beg and plead, stalk me with phone calls or spam me online and I'm still not going to tell them whether or not you are having sex."
She then goes onto list two scenarios when she would have to break confidentiality: 1, Safety of the patient or someone else and 2, certain STDs that are reported by the labs to the State.
I say give the girls the full scope of information. If you are covered by your parents insurance and are a minor, your parents have legal rights to a copy of your medical record. Everything health concern related that you tell your doctor gets written in your file, be it sexual activity or recreational drug use. Also, if your insurance company is being asked to pay, they too get a copy of all treatments/tests/diagnosis and rationalizations of why they should be covered under the policy. The policy holder (one of your parents) also gets a statement in the mail of all treatments/tests and what percentage will covered by insurance, courtesy of the insurance company. You will not be given a pap-smear unless sexually active. Forget privacy if you are under 18 or even older if you are insured under your parents. This is an important tidbit.
Dr. Ashton also is in full support of the 'Wait until your 18 club" before you become sexually active. She gives many reasons, both health and emotional, why she encourages her patients to wait. I applaud this. Dr. Ashton continues to point out that the lower your lifetime number of sexual partners, the better is her mantra. However, there is no mention that waiting until you are married is even a concept, achievable or something to shoot for.
Yes, I am wholeheartedly aware that most people will not wait that long. Yes, I am aware that that is a rare standard to achieve. Yet, under the belief that teens and tweens deserve full and competent information with which to make life changing decisions, I let my children know their personal value and potential. I let them know that their intellect, personalities and talents are something that constantly get shared with the world, but their body and virginity are a special gift that they should keep until they find someone that they are wanting to grow old and regress back into diapers with to deem worthy of a gift so sacred.
They will obviously make their own decision on this matter sooner or later, that I will have no control over, but I will always encourage them to do what is truly best for them, even if they are too young to understand what is best for them. That's why they have parents.
When it comes to school work, I never encourage my children with "I think you are capable to achieve a C!". I let them know that the sky is the limit and that they are capable of an A+. Sex as a reward for your 18th birthday is a D-, in my book, it's settling.
Granted, Dr. Ashton admits that age 18 is an arbitrary number that seems achievable and realistic to her and her patients (page 149). I let my children know that this is something that only they have control over and it is within their ability to shoot for the best. They deserve it.
Dr. Ashton speaks of Abstinence Only sex-ed as out dated and ineffective. Parents who teach abstinence only are obviously living under a rock and uncomfortable speaking about anything puberty or sex related is the connotation that you feel as reading the book.
I for one am a parent that teaches abstinence only. I also am open and honest about everything that they need to know about themselves, their hormones, body changes, feelings and what to expect in the future. I openly, yet privately, make my children individually aware at an appropriate age of the common forms of birth control and how they work and why I believe they are a bad idea to ever put into use, but I am not about to give a demonstration on how to adorn a condom (as is suggested on page 162). If you can't figure that out by reading the back of the box, you have no business having need of one and probably should have a safety cork on the end of your eating utensils too.
Emergency Contraception is noted in the book also. "Plan B and similar medications prevent conception from taking place. It does not cause abortions.", is made as an absolute statement, but if Dr. Ashton believes her teenage patients to be intelligent and worthy of making their own decisions based on all the information, why is not mentioned why there is such controversy surrounding this drug? The manufacturer makes the claim that it prevents conception and may be used up to 72 hours after intercourse. Where the controversy comes to play is: Most conceptions do not take place immediately after intercourse, but many do prior to 72 hours after. Plan B will not abort and existing pregnancy, but pregnancy is now defined as once implantation into the uterus occurs. A fertilized egg being destroyed before it has implanted in the uterine wall is the factor that have many referring to to Plan B as an abortive medication. Why only share one 1/2 of the debate?
The icing on the cake comes on page 163:
"Your parents may not be as dumb as you think. Try asking them how old they were when they started having sex. Or if they regretted it. Or if they have any funny or memorable stories or words of wisdom for you. You may be surprised at what you learn-and your parents might actually believe that you want to talk openly about sex."
I actually had to re-read that little segment, after rubbing my eyes and cleaning my glasses, just to make sure I had read it correctly. I had.
I don't discuss such personal aspects of my life with anyone other than my spouse. It's no one else's business. Not a girlfriend, nor a sister and certainly not my child. Any teen that I am familiar with would want to wash their brain thoroughly with bleach in an attempt to cleanse any such thoughts of their parents out of their heads. I am their parent, not their peer.
I asked Boy Weasel (13) to read that blurb and give me his thoughts. His face said it all. Once he swallowed the vomit down, he said "What do they mean, 'your parents aren't as dumb as you think?' ". After a good laugh, I asked him, "Okay, now seriously, what are your thoughts?", and he gave me an honest, "That's not even funny". I informed him that it wasn't supposed to be funny and he replied "You mean that wasn't a joke? That's just not right."
I had Eldest Weasel read the same excerpt. "Eewww', was her reaction to the thought.
I ran it past some other parents of various age children, asking for one word gut reactions; uncomfortable, outrageous, eewww, nuts and silence were the consensus of reactions. I am not alone.
This book is obviously written from the standpoint of a doctor and not that of a parent. I can give credit for that. Ninety percent of this book is filled with valuable information that is important for for teenage girls to have and mostly what I have already covered with my daughters (and son) regarding all sorts of growing pains, piercings and maintaining health for the rest of your life. The other 10 % of information is not right for my family. Every family is different and every parent has to make the decisions that are right for theirs. This book, however, doesn't get the WeaselMomma seal of approval.