Monday, May 31, 2010

Philly Moms: Whose 'body' are you?

Whose 'body' are you?

Original post to Philadelphia Moms Blog.

BlurredKinoCoupleI love language and enjoy keeping track of the weird, convoluted ways living languages evolve. This exasperates my teenage daughter since I'm forever asking her to define terms I've only heard come out of her mouth, or her friends'.

"Meh" is one example. I'm told it is the verbal equivalent of a shrug. I like it. We needed one of those. Then there's "sick," which teens use to describe something great or outstanding. I'm less fond of that one, but English has a long tradition of slang that stands existing words on their heads, so I'll bide.

But watching a CBS news report a few days ago, I heard an expression I don't ever plan to allow my daughter to utter: body. As in, "I'm his body."

A 15-year-old in the report explains this is the expression pre-teens and teens use to talk about the person they've had sex with. And, according to the report, almost half of them (46 percent of teens 15-19) have had sex at least once (see the whole "Sex, Dating Too Young" video clip here).

That's a whole lot of bodies walking down our school hallways.

And the image that conjures is disturbingly like something out of a George Romero movie - Dawn of the Dead with its zombies haunting the halls of a shopping center, to be precise.

Look, no mother of a teen is going to be surprised by the statistics the "Sex, Dating Too Young" report puts up on screen. We've heard the stories and the numbers before - often from our own kids. My daughter told me exactly when her classmates started dating (fifth grade); she's told me how many middle school girls are currently pregnant (three); she acknowledges that some high school couples she knows have sex in the boys' bathroom during school hours, and that the majority of her friends and peers are sexually active.

That's a lot of children who believe they are emotionally ready to handle what relationships - or sexual non-relationships - require and sometimes exact from human beings. Which means that's a lot of parents who have failed at their jobs. Because, somehow, we've failed to let our kids know that they are more than just bodies.

This is, of course, the argument most religions make when decrying casual and pre-marital sexual relationships. But I'm not here to talk religious belief, because frankly, there are many others who make more convincing spokespeople for that.

I'm here to convince you to join me in watching our language.

I don't mean curbing occasional or habitual use of vulgarities or expletives (though some day I'll have to write about how peculiar I find it that in English all of what we consider the proper terms for anatomical parts come from the Latin and all the ones we consider obscene are from the Anglo-Saxon). I mean refusing to allow the language than turns our children into those zombies I was picturing earlier.

Ever notice how we sometimes empathize and feel pity for movie vampires and werewolves, but never zombies? That's because we know that despite all of the functioning attendant parts, zombies are nothing more than ambulatory shells. A body needs a mind and a spirit to inhabit it.

When we allow our daughters to describe themselves as someone's body, or we allow our sons to refer to their girlfriends that way, we are complicit in ensuring that those appalling stats from "Sex, Dating Too Young" stay high.

Words matter. Let's make sure our kids choose them well.

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