Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers

Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers

Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers

Not My Kid: What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers

Synopsis

Teenagers have sex. While almost all parents understand that many teenagers are sexually active, there is a paradox in many parents' thinking: they insist their own teen children are not sexual, but characterize their children's peers as sexually-driven and hypersexual. Rather than accuse parents of being in denial, Sinikka Elliott teases out the complex dynamics behind this thinking, demonstrating that it is rooted in fears and anxieties about being a good parent, the risks of teen sexual activity, and teenagers' future economic and social status. Parents--like most Americans--equate teen sexuality with heartache, disease, pregnancy, promiscuity, and deviance and want their teen children to be protected from these things. Going beyond the hype and controversy, Elliott examines how a diverse group of American parents of teenagers understand teen sexuality, showing that, in contrast to the idea that parents are polarized in their beliefs, parents are confused, anxious, and ambivalent about teen sexual activity and how best to guide their own children's sexuality.Framed with an eye to the debates about teenage abstinence and sex education in school, Elliott also links parents' understandings to the contradictory messages and broad moral panic around child and teen sexuality. Ultimately, Elliott considers the social and cultural conditions that might make it easier for parents to talk with their teens about sex, calling for new ways of thinking and talking about teen sexuality that promote social justice and empower parents to embrace their children as fully sexual subjects.

Excerpt

When Rose described her 14-year-old son, who is just going through the physical changes of puberty, her face lit up. He is “very intelligent,” “very responsible,” and “loves outdoor activities.” She thinks her son revels in the pubertal changes: he proudly shows off his armpit hair and is anxiously awaiting his “happy trail” (a slender path of pubic hair running from the belly button to the pubic area), uses his deeper voice to be heard over his younger siblings, and, when he began to shave a year ago, displayed his shaving kit like “a status symbol.” But Rose is also worried. Two years ago she and her husband sat their son down for “the talk”: “We told him the basics of what happens. You know, what sex is.” Since then, they have taken him aside regularly to talk about sex and dating: “He got to the point where he was like, ‘Uh oh, oh no!’ and he would like get scared every time we said we need to talk.” Rose has persisted, however, because “I want to make sure he knows all the risks that are out there.”

Rose does not think her son is interested in sex yet, but she is concerned that girls might make advances toward him. The first time she and her husband talked with him about sex, “We just sat him down and said, ‘You . . .

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