It can be difficult for parents of teenagers to come to terms with the fact their kids may have sex, particularly given widespread concerns about the consequences of teen sexual activity. In fact, a new study from North Carolina State University shows that many parents think that their children aren’t interested in sex – but that everyone else’s kids are.
“Parents I interviewed had a very hard time thinking about their own teen children as sexually desiring subjects,” says Dr. Sinikka Elliott, an assistant professor of sociology at NC State and author of the study. In other words, parents find it difficult to think that their teenagers want to have sex.
“At the same time,” Elliott says, “parents view their teens’ peers as highly sexual, even sexually predatory.” By taking this stance, the parents shift the responsibility for potential sexual activity to others – attributing any such behavior to peer pressure, coercion or even entrapment…
These beliefs contribute to stereotypes of sexual behavior that aren’t helpful to parents or kids.
“By using sexual stereotypes to absolve their children of responsibility for sexual activity, the parents effectively reinforce those same stereotypes,” Elliott says.
Parents’ use of these stereotypes also paints teen heterosexual relationships in an unflattering, adversarial light, Elliott says and notes the irony of this: “Although parents assume their kids are heterosexual, they don’t make heterosexual relationships sound very appealing.”
Elliot has a paper describing the study…in the May issue of Symbolic Interaction. And he has a book on the topic – Not My Kid: Parents and Teen Sexuality – arriving in bookstores this year.
Sounds like it’s worth a read. Especially by parents of teenagers.