Looking back, I realize how understanding my parents really were, how they only wanted the best for me, how they really weren’t there just to judge, even when I made a stupid mistake. But during those teen years, my thought process was seldom that clear. There’s a reason why the lament “my parents don’t understand me” has become cliche.
Luckily, the generational disconnect never caused irreparable harm.
If a bill that has made it through a North Carolina House committee is passed, it won’t just repeal a four-decade-old law, opponents worry it might cause unintended and lasting consequences. That the bill is drawing headlines is notable, considering how tough it’s been to stand out in the flurry being considered by the Republican-controlled state legislature. Protests and arrests have followed bills on voter IDs, unemployment benefit cuts and other conservative proposals. Then, again, this bill deals with teens and sex.
On Tuesday, the House Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill that would require teenagers to get their parents’ permission before they could receive birth control or be treated for sexually transmitted diseases, substance abuse or mental illness. If passed, it would repeal a law on the books since the 1970s that permitted minors to get treated for sexually transmitted diseases and to get birth control without the consent of a parent or guardian.
“Teenagers were delaying treatment,” Rep. Verla Insko (D) said in the News & Observer. “They were getting sicker; they were spreading venereal disease, in some cases committing suicide because they could not talk to their parents.”
But Rep. Marilyn Avila (R) said that laws like that have been “undermining our families” for the past 20 or 30 years. She said what’s needed is “less emphasis on individual children and more on the family.”
Two pediatricians told the committee they always advise teenagers to consult with their parents, the News & Observer report said, but that it’s not possible in every case. They also worry someone with an untreated STD might infect others, creating a community health crisis. The N.C. Values Coalition and the N.C. Family Policy Council countered that the bill would only give parents common-sense supervision.
North Carolina minors are already required to obtain parental permission to get an abortion. This bill would additionally require minors or their parents to visit a notary public to affirm that permission unless the parent can accompany the teen to the doctor’s office.
A different bill, approved by the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday and headed to the Senate floor, would require North Carolina’s health instructors to teach that abortions can cause premature births in later pregnancies, a contention that sparked testimony from dueling medical experts and made opponents wonder why politicians are even weighing in on what’s taught in the classroom.
Face it, most parents would like to think their teens aren’t having sex, since they’re too busy filling the hours with studying, practicing sports and staying late after school to work on the yearbook, rehearse in the glee club or take part in whatever other extracurricular is going to bolster that college application.
But “Leave It to Beaver” was always a fantasy. Father doesn’t always know best. Sometimes Dad (or Mom) is the abuser. In those cases or other emergencies, the law allows a teen to get a judicial waiver, a process that confuses me. To expect a teen to navigate that process is wishful thinking.
Nationally, we see this debate playing out in the wrangling over whether teenagers younger than 15 should be able to buy the Plan B “morning-after pill” to prevent pregnancy without adult supervision. The issue of treatment for STDs, though, has been far less controversial.
Most parents hope and pray that when their children get in a jam, they immediately turn to them for advice and love. That happens most times, but sometimes sensible behavior is overruled by teen panic. Many of us have been on both sides of that. It’s not just that you may be afraid of what Dad and Mom think; you want to protect them from the truth that is never as bad as you think it is. You don’t want them to be disappointed in the perfect child you want to be for them.
As wrenching as it is, I would want to know that my troubled teen is visiting a trusted doctor or counselor rather than trying to handle a problem alone.
Mary C. Curtis, an award-winning multimedia journalist in Charlotte, N.C., has worked at The New York Times, Charlotte Observer and as national correspondent for Politics Daily. Follow her on Twitter: @mcurtisnc3