Teen sexuality (cont’d)

A few weeks ago, I posted on teen sexuality and the responses it engenders in adults. A thoughtful (female) reader sent me this response, which I post for your reading pleasure, without comment. Ladies, what are your thoughts? (And I suppose you too, Winston.)

When I see my young babysitter at the park, wearing a beautiful skirt that’s literally no more than 10 inches long from waistband to hem? First I notice the fabric – It’s really pretty! Why didn’t they use a little more of it?

I like your skirt, I tell her. Do I just want her to like me? Maybe a little, but I would wear that skirt six inches longer. Thanks, she says.

Next I think she must be wearing bike shorts underneath – she did bike over. At the park, the kids run off to the see-saw, and she joins them, climbing up to stand on the center and bounce it back and forth for them.

Now, she is undeniably gorgeous. Even at 13, she is already hot. She has long blonde hair, a pretty face, and a strong, tanned body. I know that she swims almost every day and eats healthy. I can tell that she knows that she looks great and takes a lot of pride in it. I wish that I had had as much discipline and self control at that age to make my body that strong and beautiful. Hell, I wish I had pushed the limits with my clothes the way she does. No. I regret not pushing those limits so much that I’m furious about it. But now I’m the mom.

When she sits down on the see-saw, oblivious to the dad nearby, to the flash of her white panties under the tiny flowered skirt, I’m a little shocked. Part of me wants to look. More of me wants to cover her. A little part wants to cover that dad’s eyes. What do I actually do? Nothing.

Isn’t she embarrassed? I wonder. But she doesn’t seem like it. Should I have said something to her? Made a sarcastic comment to the dad? On a different day, I might have done either of those things. At that moment I was frozen in horror, conflicted over shame for her, shame for myself for sort of liking it and not stopping her, and fear of what to say to the kids if they noticed her panties. I feel guilty that I brought my young sitter to the park dressed inappropriately – what kind of mom am I, anyway? And maybe I’m a little jealous that I’m not the one catching that dad’s eye. It is a quagmire.

Of course, as always, my kids bring me back to reality. I can see Katie’s underpants, my 4-year-old yells, loud enough for everyone to hear. All the conflict of a moment ago shatters, and a look passes over the sitter’s face. She’s embarrassed, I realize. She shuts down, doesn’t want to acknowledge what just happened. She had no idea that anyone could see her panties. I take the kids aside and tell them to be quiet, remind them not to talk about other people’s private areas.

So, who was wrong here? The sitter for wearing the skirt? Me for not somehow stopping her? For liking it? The dad, who just got an eyeful? The kids for pointing it out? I’m not sure anyone was wrong. It was just a brief period of discomfort, mostly mine.  I don’t beat myself up for thinking things that are shameful or conflicting. I just think, and I am thankful that no one can hear my thoughts. I have to admit that it would have helped to catch the dad’s eye for a second, just to connect, to admit without words our discomfort. That’s all I need.

As for the sitter, she’s testing uncharted waters, trying out an identity. Yes, she’s toeing the line, but she also works hard to look great. She works hard to earn the money to buy the nice, although teensy, clothes. She’s told me that she feels that she has to wear certain types of clothing around her friends, to be liked, to be accepted. She doesn’t question why. I don’t sense that she dresses for the boys. She dresses to please herself and her girlfriends. Adults are still invisible to her. The fact is, she’s still a kid. An unsettlingly sexy kid.

And as a mom, I’ll need to remind myself one day, too soon, not to judge my daughter’s outfits. Teach her to be self-aware, to be conscious of her environment, to make choices for herself, and mostly to have some fun.

Now, I’m beginning to wonder about the flip side – how do I teach my sons to be respectful of girls while still encouraging them to like what they see?


  1. Quite thoughtful questions! Not long ago, a female dentist assistant lost her job because she dressed too sexily that the dentist couldn’t concentrate in his job.

    These are sort of grey areas. The babysitter has her right to dress in her way. But does she feel the need to dress appropriately? Is it her fault for not to dress properly if something happen to her such as being sexually assaulted? Does man also need to take responsibility for his action when he tries to push the blame on the girl’s dressing?

    1. You’re gross to imply that a 13 year old may get raped because she’s wearing a shirt skirt. If she is wrapped it’s because a man is sick in the head and wants to control her (rape is about power not sex.)

  2. To L2S, I think it’s essential for adults to take responsibility for themselves when interacting with children and underage teens. But that gets back to the idea that parents also have a responsibility to teach their kids what the consequences could be for forgetting to wear bike shorts under a short skirt.

  3. I think the bike shorts are a very American idea of propriety. Personally, I try to teach my kids to respect every one, no matter how they’re dressed, period. And that seeing someone’s underwear is no big deal. After all, I feel underwear’st here to hide what’s underneath. So shorts would be there to hide what hides what’s underneath. At what point do we decide it’s dirty to look at what hides what hides what’s underneath? When does this stop? My teen age daughter, having been brought up in America, feels necessary to wear shorts underneath her skirts (which I try to keep longer than 10 inches, sometimes with success). I’m not going to tell her not to if she feels more comfortable doing so. But her younger sisters will probably not have the same needs, not being brought up in the same country. And that’s fine too, as long as they have enough self respect to not flaunt themselves to the whole human kind…

  4. Two other things : Though I agree a girl (as they’re mostly the ones who get assaulted) needs to be taught to beware of how she looks, in the sense that she needs to realise when she could attract other people’s attention (men in particular), I think it’s dangerous to “teach their kids what the consequences could be for forgetting to wear bike shorts under a short skirt.” It somehow implies that a girl who was wearing a short skirt is responsible if she gets raped. And that brings again another question : what is too short, what is long enough? Who gets to decide? I think, really, no matter what the girl is wearing, it is the rapist who’s responsible for the rape.
    But somehow, I also can see a friend’s point of view, after living in an Arab country, and looking at women in our western societies : he said he felt he was at the meat market, so much flesh was being taunted everywhere you looked. I guess it’s a difficult line to tread, letting our daughters explore their femininity and sensuality while retaining enough self esteem to not look as if they’re trying to sell themselves…

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