Teenagers and relationships: how right on are their mums? :GENERATION Y ; SEX

Beverley Kemp talks to two mothers about their hopes and fears as their children enter the sexual minefield
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Jill French, who is 41, lives with her partner, Dave Beardsley ,35. She has three children from a previous marriage: Emma,19, Joanne, 15, and Sarah, 8. Dave's children, David, 8, and Samantha, 6, also live with the couple. Jill is a housewife and Dave isa bus mechanic. They live in Middlesex.

"I was 39 before I finally found a good man," says Jill. "My ex-husband was very violent. I've had 60 stitches in my face, and I would be beaten up simply because he had had a bad day. Joanne has seen me in a happy, stable relationship for the past two years, but Emma remembers her dad pretending to the ambulance drivers that I had fallen downstairs.

My past experience of men and relationships has influenced my attitude to bringing up daughters a lot. My biggest worry is that my daughters will end up with a man who is violent or into crime. The boys Emma sees now seem all right, but the ones in the past haven't always been. One boy blacked her eye, then had the cheek to call around here. He took one look at me, jumped over the fence and never called again.

The first thing I did when Emma started to date boys at 15 was to put her on the Pill. Although I trusted her to be sensible, I figured that things might happen that I didn't know about. I will do exactly the same with Joanne in a few months. We've always been able to talk openly about sex. Having said that, I didn't find out that Emma had lost her virginity until six months after the event. When it finally did come out she said, "Mum, there are some things I need to keep private from you."

Every day I find myself telling Emma and Joanne not to do things that I did in my teens. I encourage them to only go out with nice boys with good jobs, knowing full well that when I was 18 I hung around with mods and layabouts. I don't tell them not to sleep with boys; just to make sure it is the right one, and not to sleep with a boy simply because he is pressurising them.

Not having anyone to share my worries with was one of the worst parts of being a single mother for seven years. I used to worry myself sick about Emma. I'd end up scouring the streets looking for her. Even though she's left home now, I can still get in areal state about her. The other day she rang me from a phone box and mentioned that a bloke standing outside was staring at her. She's so pretty that men come up and give her their phone number in the street. It scares the hell out of me that one day something might happen that she can't deal with. Having Dave to talk to is such a comfort. He tells me when I am over-reacting and when there's something to be concerned about.

There wasn't much we could tell Emma and Joanne about Aids that they didn't already know through talking to their friends. Emma obviously takes it seriously because I know she has had a test. Aids has coloured the ideas teenagers have about dating these days. Cheating is out and being faithful is in. When Emma says things like, "If any man cheats on me, he's out the door," I know she means it.

Whether my daughters get married or not isn't important to me. It wouldn't bother me if I never had grandchildren. If one of them was to say, "Mum, I'm gay," I'd accept that, too. As long as they are happy and healthy they can do what they want with their lives. My only hope is that is doesn't take them as long to find happiness as it took me.

Eric (47) and Angela Roberts (45) have been married for 24 years and have two adopted sons, Gareth (17) and Bradley (13). Eric is a journalist; Angela works as a playgroup supervisor. They live in York. Angela says: The other day we came home from a night out and two girls we had never seen before were sitting in the lounge chatting to Gareth. It didn't look as if any introductions were going to be forthcoming. You don't want to say anything to show your son up so we just sort of said, "Oh hello!" and skulked off into the kitchen. Gareth keeps very quiet about his girlfriends. His answer is always, "If I fall in love, I'll tell you." Once we dropped him and a girlfriend off at a theme park and when we went to pick them up he was with a different girl altogether.

Bradley is a lot more open. He came home from school last year and told us he had a girlfriend but two days later it was all off because she fancied someone else. On holiday he met a girl called Suzanna, who also happens to be black and adopted, and theyare still writing and sending presents to each other two years later.

We're quite relaxed about talking about any aspect of sex and relationships with our sons. Because they are both adopted, when they were younger they would ask lots of questions like "Why did you adopt us?" and "Why couldn't you have children of your own?" We've always tried to give an honest answer to whatever Gareth or Bradley ask.

Obviously they're going to date lots of girls but we've tried to encourage them to have one steady relationship as opposed to lots of casual ones. The trend these days does seem to be fidelity. Most of Gareth's friends are either single or have been withthe same girl for ages. They don't seem to be drifting in and out of bed with different partners. The attitude of teenagers today is all about independence and choice. Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend was almost a status symbol when we were in our teens. You felt quite desperate if you didn't have one.

I always say to Gareth that I know about teenage girls because I was one once. They hunt in packs. A girlfriend of his at college told him he could move into her flat for free after knowing him for only three weeks. I put him off when I told him he'd have to clean the bath out if he went to live with someone else! I am aware that at some time in the not-too-distant future there is going to be a woman for both of them who will be far more important than me and letting go is going to be hard.

Some of our friends have gone through a lot more worry with their teenage daughters than we have with our sons. Girls seem far more strong-willed and rebellious at that age.

Aids isn't something we have first-hand experience of, though the boys seem very aware of it. For us there are far bigger things to worry about like how the hell are they ever going to get good jobs and be able to afford to leave home under a Tory government?

Both of us led quite sheltered lives before we got married. It might have been the swinging Sixties, but it wasn't the teenagers who were having all the fun! This year we celebrate our silver wedding so we can't say that young marriages don't work, but we'd probably try to talk Gareth or Bradley out of it. You need to live a bit before you give up all your freedom.

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