Of Teenage Dreams and Towel Pics

Listening To Our Children

Our Storyteller (13) had a dream that she shared with us just a couple weeks ago at breakfast.  She was clearly perturbed by it, and being a verbal processor, she really needed to share it with us.  In her dream she was in our house, sleeping in her room in the basement, when she woke up in the middle of the night to discover that someone had organized a party on the main floor.  Her parents were nowhere to be found.

She joined the party and found herself in the following situations:

  • a guy she knows wants to hold her hand.  She puts up with it (her words).  He wants to kiss her.  She says no.  He leaves her, angry.  She later sees him announce to someone else that she’s his girlfriend.
  • another guy she knows wants to kiss her.  She says no.  He gets upset and finds some other people to hang out with at the party.
  • a third guy wants to kiss her.  She doesn’t know him.  She says no.  He tries to hit her.  She ducks.

And she wakes up.

I remember having many strange dreams around her age, some about girls, one in particular where a local gang trapped our family and asked us to select one of the males from our family to be executed.  I remember that dream to this day, some 25 years later, and the inner turmoil that it stirred up in me; questions of morality, mortality, responsibility, sacrifice, family, the value of a life.  The gang was based on a real family that lived down the street from us, with older teenagers and young adults that struck me as very rough and tough.

Dreams don’t always come from some clear connection with real life, but sometimes they do.  Sleep is a space where our brain works on real problems we’re facing without the clutter of daytime activities, after all.  So I deliberately make the time to listen to my children’s dreams, if for no other reason than because they feel the need to share them with me.  I typically respond with a question like: “Wow, how do you feel about that dream?”  This creates the space for a conversation to happen if they need it without making a big deal about it.

I’m a very practical person.  Dreams are not reality.  They are imagination.  Often dreams are based on elements of reality, but they are still products of imagination.  I only get concerned when dreams frighten or disturb my children.  That is when I start to wonder if there is something in reality that they are struggling to process.  Like when SugarBaby (2) declares that she is scared of monsters every night at bedtime.  Is there a source of fear in real life that is affecting her sleep, or is it just a stalling tactic?  Either way, how do I handle this in the most loving way while respecting her real feelings?  Jessica found an awesome solution, by the way: “You’re scared of monsters, SugarBaby?  You’re safe here in the house with Mommy and Daddy and your sisters.  Now lay down and close your eyes so that the fairies can come and bring you sweet dreams.”  I didn’t know until a couple of weeks ago that fairies even did that sort of thing.  They apparently work out some sort of schedule with the Sand Man; however they work that out, it’s working for SugarBaby.  Who knew?

Back to our Storyteller.  She has always had a wild imagination.  And she has always shown interest in boys.  But she has recently very clearly crossed a line from cute crushes to a genuine interest in boys.  A romantic interest in boys.  We give her a hard time about it, and she handles it well (otherwise we wouldn’t do it).   We don’t encourage her or discourage her in her thoughts about boys.  We have asked her what it means to be a girlfriend and boyfriend, and her description sounds very much like a close friendship, to which we responded with “Then why not just be friends?”  The main difference between a boy friend and a boyfriend that we can tell is that a boyfriend expects physical intimacy, and physical intimacy can just be holding hands at first, but it has a way of escalating, and quickly.  Totally normal, by the way.  Natural.  Biological.  And eventually it leads to sex.  “Are you ready for sex?”  “NO!” making a face.  “Then you probably aren’t ready for a boyfriend.  Be friends!  If it leads to something romantic later, then at least you’ll be in a romantic relationship with a good friend.”

Call us old-fashioned, but in our mind if you’re not ready to look for someone to be in a long-term committed relationship with (such as a marriage), then you’re not ready to be a boyfriend or girlfriend.  Especially if, like us old-fashioned fools, you want to commit to spending the rest of your life with your best friend.  Like us, old-fashioned, still madly-in-love, best friends forev… um… I mean: best friends for the rest of our lives (and maybe beyond), fools.  (who got married “too young,” had kids “too soon,” had “too many” kids, and haven’t had a “real” job for most of our lives).  This does not mean that we believe in Abstinence; but that will have to wait for a different post.

And… back to our Storyteller.  This particular dream really disturbed her.  And, though there was a part of me that was relieved to hear that she is wary of boys, I was also angry that she has a fear of boys and also concerned that there may already be a reason for her to be afraid of them (other than her being sexually assaulted when she was 3, which would be cause enough).  So this time, I asked more pointed questions: “Has anyone tried to force you to kiss them?  Has a boy tried to hit you?  Is there a boy that you’re afraid of?”  But there wasn’t.

There was just a new (new to me anyway) fear of boys, a distrust of them, to go along with her infatuation with them.  As much as I hate that she is afraid of boys, I know that it is for good reason in our culture, that apart from the statistic of 1 out of 4 girls being sexually assaulted by the time she is 18 yrs old, there is simply a whole lot of pressure on teenage girls to perform sexually to please their boyfriend, and this pressure is perceived as normal.  And so I also recognized that Storyteller’s fear was a valid one, and I was proud of her level of maturity.

If I was writing a novel, I might use her dream as an element of foreshadowing.  Because it was less than a week later that a cute guy crush held her hand “for two seconds” and she was so excited to tell us about it.  She was on cloud nine for days!

And it was less than a week later that a fun text exchange between the two of them ended abruptly when he texted the words: “towel pic?”

That pressure for girls to perform sexually for their boyfriend?  It’s real.  And it extends to being asked to share sexy pics.  I hate that our 13 yr old knew exactly what he was asking of her.  I hate that after having held his hand “for 2 seconds” this guy feels entitled to ask her for a sexy pic.  More than pulling out my overalls and shotgun and scaring the crap out of him, I so badly want to teach him that there is so much more to girls than their looks.  That they are full-fledged people too.  That they have minds, and wit, and talent, and dreams; bodies, of course, but thoughts and feelings too, that shouldn’t be ignored or dismissed.  And, by the way, so does he.  His value could be defined by so much more than his sexual conquests.  It should be.  It must be, or his future relationships will continue to be defined by this.  His male friends by his “studness.”  And the women that he “conquers” but doesn’t value apart from their physiology.  Who will teach him that true intimacy, and even love, starts with respect?  And that the respect you show for others is intrinsically tied to your self respect?  Who will do this for our boys and girls?

By the way, I love that Storyteller’s response to his request for a towel pic was to send him a pic.  Of a towel.

Also, we have alerted the leader of the group where they met and he is contacting the boy’s parents.  And, when Towel Pic Guy tried texting Storyteller again after a week or so, he ended up texting with me.  I was kind.  I even gave him my number in case he needed help figuring out how to reconcile his friendship with my daughter – after I strongly suggested that he cease texting her.

One last thing: I am very, very proud of my daughter, and so grateful that she feels safe enough to discuss her boy troubles with her parents.

~ Jeremy

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