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"Hooking up" has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today's teenagers. Image courtesy of photostock at

“Hooking up” has become normalized, acceptable and even preferred to dating among today’s teenagers.
Image courtesy of photostock at

In a culture that has the shortest attention span in recent history, it’s no surprise our teens are “hooking up” more often than they’re dating.  Parents, this should scare the bejeezus out of you!  It scares me to death and I’m not even fearing for my own child (she’s still small), I’m worried sick about the teenagers I work with.

On the more obvious level, I worry for their physical health.  It’s not new news that diseases spread through kissing, sexual activity and sexual intercourse.  It’s also not new news that girls who participate in this type of activity with boys they don’t know very well are much more likely to be sexually assaulted.  In that case, sometimes the situation gets away from them.  What began as consensual activity progresses farther than they intended.  Actually, this goes for boys too.  While your sons aren’t as likely to complain about it aloud, I hear it in my office ALL THE TIME.  An adolescent male is “hooking up” with a girl at a party and she doesn’t seem to be stopping when things really heat up.  He wants to stop, but knows that culturally he’s not supposed to.  Before he really knows what’s happened to him, he’s squandered the virginity that he did actually value.  He wasn’t assaulted per se, but he didn’t really want to be with that girl either.

Side bar: I keep putting “hooking up” in quotes because this has become a confusing term.  In my generation the term “hook up” always meant sex.  Teens use it now to mean anything from making out to intercourse.  It’s not a very descriptive term.  If you hear your child using it, make sure to ask for clarification.

The other part of “hooking up” that really bothers me as a therapist is the lack of personal connection, self-respect, respect for commitment, and respect for the other partner- all the emotional stuff.  Most of the teenagers I work with who “hook up” have been deeply hurt by this activity.  They do this believing it will help them walk towards having a relationship, but actually makes them disposable.  There is no earning the right to a kiss after being taken on a nice date because all he has to do is give your daughter a drink or two and then they’ll become sexual (feel free to interchange he with she and daughter with son).  I realize this type of thing has been going on for years, but I’m telling you that it is more prevalent than when I was in high school in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  At least at that time we tended to be “dating” before anything would happen.  One client complained to me that the majority of her friends have a “hook-up” or a “friend with benefits,” but that nobody has a boyfriend or girlfriend.  She said she’s commonly called prude, old-fashioned, and a tease because she isn’t sexual with her male friends; she insists on being taken out for a real date.  I pointed out to her that although she is called names for this, she does actually have the respect of her male and female friends.  She agreed.  Can you believe she is made fun of for having self-respect?!?

Parents, I’m begging you to have multiple conversations with your teenagers about this.  Please, please, please teach them that their bodies are to be treasured, not given away.  Please set a strong example for them yourself.  I realize that given the statistics today, half of you reading this have gone through a divorce.  That means there are a significant number of you trying to date.  For those of you in that situation, set the example for your teens of how you’d like them to handle sex.  If you’re casual about it, they probably will be too; if you take it seriously and see it as a big deal, they probably will too.

One of the best things you can do as a parent is demand the respect your teenager deserves, and force them to give the respect their fellow teens should have.  I realize that sentence wasn’t very clear, so this is an example of what I’m talking about.  If you have a teenage son, require him to knock at the door and shake hands with a girl’s parents when he takes her out.  If you have a teen daughter, don’t let her leave the house until her date has come to the door to pick her up and shaken your hand.  If he’s clearly uncomfortable beyond the nerves any teen boy would feel standing face to face with a girl’s parents, don’t let her go with him!  Hold very firm boundaries around teen dating while still letting them figure out what it’s all about.  For goodness sake, talk to them about the destructiveness of just “hooking up!”  We want our kids to grow up healthy and free of the burdens that come with sexually transmitted diseases, wounded hearts from sex that happened too young, and the pain of being cast off after giving everything to another person.

Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT