Recently, Judge Louis Bidois discharged five young Opotiki men without conviction after they had pleaded guilty to having sex with girls under the age of sixteen. John Cowan shares his thoughts.
I expect the age-of-consent law with its stiff penalties protects young people from older predators but I am sure the law is the last thing young teenagers on a date think about as they look into each other’s eyes and fizz with hormones. But obviously there are some things young people do think about; it is obvious because many young people do make wise sexual decisions.
It’s a fact many teenagers do have sex – a fifth of them by 13 and nearly half of them by 18, which is worrying, but the flip side of those figures is that the majority of them do not. Maybe some of them would want to but do not have the opportunity to have sex, and maybe some of them have no desire to, but I have always believed that young people are capable of making intelligent decisions and practising self-control when they have good information and good coaching.
Schools and programmes like our own Attitude Programmes for Schools seek to encourage wise, safe and caring sexual behaviour but research indicates that parents are the most potent influence on the sexual attitudes of young people. Teenagers who have a good relationship with their parents, and are aware that their parents have high expectations of them tend to exercise more self-control and make better decisions.Unfortunately too many parents abdicate that responsibility: some are locked up by their own shyness around the topic, others bury their head in the sand and do not believe their own children have drives and desires, or they just really don’t know what to do.
What parents should teach is a big question but could I just say, it is never just about biology. The most important things are about how they value themselves and their future, how they respect other people, how feelings can be strong but we can stay in control, and learning that real love is more than a surge of emotion: genuine love is about desiring the very best for the person they care about.
Yes, we need laws. But more than that we need parents with guts who aren’t scared of having embarrassing conversations with their teenagers.