Fortunately, in the US we don’t live in the times Nathanial Hawthorn wrote about in his historical novel The Scarlett Letter. In the Scarlett Letter, Hawthorn introduced us to the protagonist, Hester Prynne, described as a young, 16 years-old woman living in a Puritan culture (17th Century). Hester was judged and jailed for breaking the law – she had sex. After she was released from jail, Hester was forced by the community to wear a red embroidered patch with the letter A on her clothing (aka, the Scarlett Letter. . .”A” symbolic for adulteress). A wonderful story of how culture and society expresses the need to control female sexuality.
We may congratulate ourselves with the perception that we are enlightened and appreciate that we don’t live as the Puritans did. Though, as a therapist, I have worked with adolescents/teenagers, and I am often challenged in how parents and adults, in general, can forget, lose touch, or minimize the challenges that adolescents manage.
For instance during the teenage years there are significant hormonal changes which awaken the emergence of sexuality- accompanying these new experience are the associated emotional ups and downs, complicating these changes. As a therapist I work to help parents, teenagers and young adults understand and that these changes are normal and powerful. The therapeutic work is finding a path in which the individual is supported as they acknowledge their own sexual development in a contained safe environment.
Here is a website that may help some adolescents and parents who want to understand their teenager’s sexual development. Scarleteen is a website for adolescents who need information on matters which pertains to adolescent concerns and development. It is an inclusive site, provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. Also, the information contained on the site is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. (You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.) Though this site is for adolescents, and can be a resource in which they may get information on important subjects which relate to their experiences.
Also, Scarleteen may be a method in which the parents can engage and connect with their teenager by reading about changes and concerns which the adolescent is managing. I encourage parents to spend some time with their adolescent, and simply be with them by listening to their thoughts, feeling and experiences.
This information may be challenging, because most of us have either purposely blocked out our memories of this critical age or engaged in “convenient memory,” remembering only the most positive parts of it. Though, when we really focus on all things teenagers are going through, even without psychological and emotional complications, we can see how important these years are!
Painting by Huges Merle, "The Scarlet Letter"