Q: You've indicated when sex education should begin. When should it end?
A: You should plan to end your formal instructional program about the time your son or daughter enters puberty (the time of rapid sexual development in early adolescence). Puberty usually begins between the ages of 10 and 13 for girls and between 11 and 14 for boys. Once they enter this developmental period, they are typically embarrassed by discussions of sex with their parents. Adolescents usually resent adult intrusion during this time -- unless they raise the topic themselves. In other words, this is an area where teens should invite parents into their lives.
I feel we should respect their wishes. We are given 10 or 12 years to provide the proper understanding of human sexuality. After that foundation has been laid, we serve primarily as resources to whom our children can turn when the need exists.
That is not to say parents should abdicate their responsibility to provide guidance about issues related to sexuality, dating, marriage, etc., as opportunities present themselves. Again, sensitivity to the feelings of the teen is paramount. If he or she wishes to talk, by all means, welcome the conversation. In other cases, parental guidance may be most effective if offered indirectly. Trusted youth workers at church or in a club program such as Campus Life or Young Life can often break the ice when parents can't.
I'd also suggest that you arrange a subscription for your kids to magazines that provide solid advice -- from the perspective of a friend, rather than an authority figure. Examples include Brio (for girls ages 12 and up), and Breakaway (for boys ages 12 and up), both of which are available through Focus on the Family.
Q: My boyfriend and I have been seeing each other for almost a year. Initially, he would freely show me a great deal of respect and affection. Lately, however, I'm seeing less and less of this attention. I don't want to be overly sensitive, but I don't want to be used as a doormat either. How can I know for sure what is the case?
A: Give yourself a little test by answering these questions about the relationship. Are you making all the phone calls to the other person? Does he tell you the truth invariably? Have you been "stood up" without a reasonable excuse? Do you fear he is slipping away, and is that causing you to "grab and hold"?
Are you tolerating insults that others would not accept? Does he show evidence of "cherishing" you and wanting to make you happy? Does he reveal your secrets to others and make comments about you in public that embarrass you? Is he physically abusive at times? Does he ever "reach" for you instead of your reaching for him? Do your friends ever say, "Why do you put up with the stuff he does?"
These are questions that only you can answer. But if you are honest with yourself, you will have no difficulty identifying disrespectful components to your relationship. If you come up with the wrong answers, the solution is not to beg him to do better. It is to pull back and see if he follows. If not, you're better off looking for someone else.
Q: Does the feeling of entrapment in marriage happen only late in life, or does it sometimes occur earlier?
A: Trapped reactions can occur among teenagers during courtship or at any time within a marriage -- from the first day of the honeymoon to 50 years thereafter. They happen any time one partner devalues the worth of the other and feels stuck in the relationship. They form the cornerstone of midlife crises among men, and are typical of women who feel their husbands are wimpy and lacking in confidence. I believe the majority of divorces can be traced to the twin reactions of disrespect and marital claustrophobia.
James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.