Would Americans increase peace in family life and strengthen family bonds if they adopted more accepting attitudes about sex and what’s allowable under the family roof? I’ve interviewed 130 people, all white, middle class and not particularly religious, as part of a study of teenage sex and family life here and in the Netherlands. My look into cultural differences suggests family life might be much improved, for all, if Americans had more open ideas about teenage sex.
Amy Schalet is a sociology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, via an education at Berkeley and Harvard and a postdoctoral fellowship at UC San Francisco. So it’s safe to say that I’m not surprised that she’s staked out some ground somewhere on the far left of left in her new book. As the father of a newly minted (one week ago) teenage daughter, however, this one has my head spinning around. And not in the fun head spinning around kind of way.
While I haven’t read the book, I am using some of the points that Dr. Schalet chose to illustrate her conclusions. Some of these conclusions seem more like generalizations based on what she picked out from her own book to make her case.
Kimberly and Natalie dramatize the cultural differences in the way young women experience their sexuality. (I have changed their names to protect confidentiality.) Kimberly, a 16-year-old American, never received sex education at home. “God, no! No, no! That’s not going to happen,” she told me. She’d like to tell her parents that she and her boyfriend are having sex, but she believes it is easier for her parents not to know because the truth would “shatter” their image of her as their “little princess.”
Natalie, who is also 16 but Dutch, didn’t tell her parents immediately when she first had intercourse with her boyfriend of three months. But, soon after, she says, she was so happy, she wanted to share the good news. Initially her father was upset and worried about his daughter and his honor. “Talk to him,” his wife advised Natalie; after she did, her father made peace with the change. Essentially Natalie and her family negotiated a life change together and figured out, as a family, how to adjust to changed circumstance.
It is quite unfortunate that “Kimberly” didn’t receive any sex education at home. As this article is laid out, she is supposed to be indicative of the American teenage experience. And she may very well have been if this was written in 1965. It’s true that I haven’t conducted any research on this subject. I am, however, fully immersed in the child-rearing experience, which, at the very least, gives me a legitimate frame of reference from which to form a somewhat informed opinion about this subject.
I’m comfortable responding with anecdotal experiences as there isn’t much detail about the research criteria that would seem to be most relevant to the opinions Dr. Schalet offers. The sample is described as “white, middle class and not particularly religious.” I get the “white” part but am not sure I think that the American and Dutch middle classes are perfectly analogous. And “not particularly religious” is about as helpful as “somewhat taller than a few of the people who live behind one of my next door neighbors.”
The “Gosh, why can’t we just be more like Europe?” meme is a familiar one with academics who write for the New York Times and could easily warrant a book-length response so I’ll leave that for another day.
Another one of the most tedious things about the Times in recent years has been the effort made by contributors to work a left-leaning talking point in any article. Dr. Schalet doesn’t pass up the chance to shill:
Respecting what she understood as her family’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, Kimberly only slept with her boyfriend at his house, when no one was home.
Hey — guess what I got an email about from Obama for America last Friday?
But enough about the hack nature of a newspaper that was great about a thousand years ago. Back to the book. Let us go to yet another quote from the good doctor:
The difference in their experiences stems from divergent cultural ideas about sex and what responsible parents ought to do about it. Here, we see teenagers as helpless victims beset by raging hormones and believe parents should protect them from urges they cannot control.
Or we see them as children grappling with their first encounters with adulthood. I don’t view my daughter as a “victim” of adolescence, I see her as a very, very young person who doesn’t need to be thrown into independence without an instruction book of sorts and a safety net. In other words, she isn’t ready to make adult decisions because she has a very limited understanding of consequences. So, much to the chagrin of Dr. Schalet and many other progressive types, I will continue to parent; I won’t punt the responsibility to my child.
The Dutch parents I interviewed regard teenagers, girls and boys, as capable of falling in love, and of reasonably assessing their own readiness for sex.
Don’t call your eye doctor, you did just actually see the words “teenagers” and “reasonably assessing their own readiness for sex” in the same sentence. It’s probably not a stretch at this point to wonder whether Dr. Schalet was ever a teenager. Her op-ed scholarship continues in the next sentence:
Dutch parents like Natalie’s talk to their children about sex and its unintended consequences and urge them to use contraceptives and practice safe sex.
The implication, of course, is that American parents do not.
I am a practicing Roman Catholic, admittedly overprotective father and I’ve had conversations with my daughter on the subject. We went over every sex-education lesson she got in school, both before and after. Naturally, she wasn’t thrilled to be talking to her dad about any of it but she relaxed a little and actually brought it up after a while. We were able to do this because we have always communicated which, of course, is the foundation of any success a parent can hope to have once the kids start navigating the random waters of puberty. I harbor none of the illusions that Dr. Schalet continually implies “American parents” have. In the past year, I have talked to many parents from backgrounds far more diverse than the sample used in this book and found that I’m not an anomaly. Again, this isn’t olden times, many of us do try to communicate with our children now.
Let us move onto the most blood-boiling statement from Dr. Schalet:
Normalizing teenage sex under the family roof opens the way for more responsible sex education.
That is the second time in the article the word “normalizing” is used. Dr. Schalet employs the tired progressive academic tactic of defining the terms of a faulty premise from which to continue unabated on to predetermined conclusions. And these conclusions only work if you are willing to radically redefine normal as she sees it.
Which I am not.