Reading Between the Lines: Tips for Millennials
I went on my first date and had my first kiss all within about a week of one another—I was 16 years old. I wanted so badly for my mom to give me a spiel about boys or to have “The Talk” with me. Of course I never explicitly said to her, “Hey mom, so these butterflies in my stomach, what’s that about?” But she also never volunteered any information either. The extent of my mother’s warnings and words of wisdom were: “Be smart,” “Stay safe,” and “Remember who raised you.” Sure, the wisdom of Solomon, Oprah, and grandmothers past were packed into these three short phrases—but what my sixteen-year-old self had internalized from those phrases began and ended with “don’t die and don’t miss curfew.” I had no interest in reading between the lines, and even if I did, there weren’t many lines to read between.
During a graduation party for my younger brother, who is headed off to college this month, a few of the older cousins and I got into a hilarious debate about all the things our mothers hadn’t said. While a few of their mothers had spared no detail, the majority stuck to the “Be smart. Stay safe. Remember who raised you” mantra. I suddenly realized that, no, it wasn’t just me—parents everywhere are saying the bare minimum and expecting their teens—who still lose their house keys and forget to do their homework—to navigate the world of sex, love, and relationships. It’s not realistic. Although we can’t blame parents for what they don’t know, we can be sure to give tangible and comprehensive advice to the young people in our lives.
With my younger brother and a few mentees heading off to college, it’s dawned on me that it’s not only a parent’s responsibility to equip them with the wisdom they need, but it’s also my responsibility as a champion. I am breaking down my mother’s three mantras so that you (and the people you share this with) will forgo the coded language and prepare the young people in your life for the (sometimes scary) world of dating and sex.
My mom was a single teen mom. She raised me with the help of an awesome support system and a spirit of determination—and I think I’m pretty incredible! Still, “be smart” wasn’t just a caution to excel in my studies; it was also a warning to use protection when choosing to have sex or be intimate with a partner. Instead of imploring your young person to read between the lines, try: “It’s really important not only to study but to also ask for help when you need it” and “Are you thinking about sex? Let’s check out Bedsider.org to find a method that suits you. Dual protection is awesome!”
My mom is also a lieutenant of a police department. When she says, “Stay safe,” with her head cocked to the side, she is most certainly warning me to be wary of new places, people, and situations. As you talk with your young person about safety, avoid assuming that what seems “safe” to you also seems safe to them. Instead, try saying something practical, like: “When you’re in situations that you’re still unsure about, like a party with new friends, on a date, or even just walking home after class, use the buddy system and always check your surroundings. Remember you can always call home, too!”
Remember who raised you.
I won’t sugarcoat this one—this was nothing short of a threat (haha!). When my mother yelled through the screen door, “Remember who raised you,” she was reminding me to be mindful of my reputation and the choices I was making. She was also encouraging me to make her proud. As we uplift the young people in our lives, let’s challenge them to live lives their future selves will be proud of, too. We can skip the fear tactics and opt for: “Remember every decision you make has a direct impact on who you’re becoming. It’s never too late to change course, either—life is yours!”
So to the millennial, still reading between the lines of their mother's mantras, remember the college-bound student in your life wants to hear from you. Start talking today!