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Elspeth McLean:

Hallowe'en,  sex,  and
the value of pledges


Ten years on,  the wounds are still raw and ugly.   When the book is written about the damage I have caused as a parent,  the incident will be writ large.

According to the offspring's version of it,  after ruling out trick-or-treating back in 1990,  I said they would be allowed to participate the following year.   When October 31,  1991,  rolled around,  I denied making any such promise.   While their friends were out pounding the pavement in hastily cobbled together costumes exhorting people to give them things,  they were at home being truculent and miserable.

I deny it vehemently to this day.   I have tried to employ cool calm logic to explode the myth the First and Second Born have created.   The other two were thankfully too small to remember their brothers' flight of fancy,  although they have perfected sounding supportively indignant.

"What on earth would possess me to say you could do it when you know I have always thought trick or treating was an unpleasant Americanisation of a Celtic tradition we could well do without?

"What's more,  don't forget your inability never to let go of an argument was as evident 10 years ago as it is now.   Why would I want to run the risk of having this thrown up at me every Hallowe'en for the rest of my life?"

This reasoning cuts no more ice with them this year than it did last year or the years before that..   They know I am in denial.   They are convinced I made this rash promise just to stop them nagging in 1990 and that I had no intention of following through with it anyway.   That makes it hurt all the more,  in their eyes.

I've told them they should have got me to sign a pledge.   They agree.   It's the sort of simplistic solution that appeals to many of us.   If their memory of the event were true,  I could have signed a pledge saying I would let them trick or treat in '91,  but what would have happened if I had grave reservations between one October and the next?   Would I have been allowed to change my mind?   What worth would my pledge have?   And what if they had decided it wasn't such a good idea,  after all?   Could I try and force them to comply with the intent of my pledge,  just to be bloody minded?


I have similar reservations about the pledge some 13-year-olds have been signing as part of the Straight Talk programme,  run by Australian Presbyterian layman,  Jim Lyons,  and his wife,  Faye.

According to reports I've read,  those who had decided to sign the pledge were asked to pray to God for forgiveness  --  forgiveness for what?   The pledge itself apparently said:  "Believing that true love waits,  I make a commitment to God,  myself,  my family,  those I date,  my future mate and my future children to be sexually pure till the day I enter a covenant marriage relationship."

What is the worth of this public type of commitment?   Are you ready to make it at 13?   What happens if,  a few years down the track, you change your mind and decide to have sex with someone to whom you are not married?   Will you have to worry you have offended God,  yourself,  your family,  those you date,  your future mate and your future children?

And what about the teenagers who might already suspect they are gay?   I bet they didn't rate a mention in this whole production.   Only the heterosexual must be allowed to suppress their sexual feelings.   Gays and lesbians don't exist.   (I am pleased to note the Post Primary Teachers Association is not burying its head in the sand on the existence issue   --  it's distributing guidelines to schools this month on the treatment of gay and lesbian teachers and students).

It is easy to be seduced by the idea that if you tell teenagers often enough that something is stupid or wrong  --  and this pledge business is just a "moral" way of saying sex before marriage is wrong  --  that eventually they will stop doing it.   We wouldn't have an explosion of teenage smokers if that were the case.

True,  many teenagers have got the message about drinking and driving but that's because they can see that teenagers can die as a result of it.   Sex can kill people too but not usually when they are teenagers.

When we have given teenagers all the information they need to make sensible decisions about sex,  should we do more to show them how they are bombarded by sex in the media?   Do we do enough to make them see how calculated and invasive the whole sex message is?   Do we encourage them to realise it would be much more rebellious not to go along with the superficial view of sex promoted?

And when we have done all that, and shown as parents that we are not afraid to talk about the subject when required,  we need to remember sex is a personal thing and,  ultimately,  teenagers will have to decide what they are going to do.   Some will make good decisions and some will make bad ones.   Whatever decisions they make they will have to live with daily.

At least I only have to hear about the trick or treating saga once a year.   Although,  come to think of it,  without a couple of sexual decisions from me and my husband,  the annual slanging match would never have been possible.   That's the trouble with sex.   It's a complicated business.   It's not easy for any of us to see all the repercussions.

© Elspeth McLean  (2000)



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