Cultural Differences

More about “The Hearts of Boys”

Contexts Magazine has just published a special on “the hearts of boys” with contributions from scholars across several disciplines, offering different perspectives on the inner lives of boys.

Romantic Boys

Today the New York Times published my oped, entitled, “Caring, Romantic Boys”.  Those of you following the themes I discuss in this blog won’t be surprised by the argument.  I’ve been noticing in my research and that of others, as well as in interacting with audiences when I give public presentations, that the theme of boys and the need to have a more nuanced understanding of their motivations and experiences keeps coming back.  There’s been some additional conversations about this going on at the Good Men Project.  Let me know if you see others!

Permit It, Hug It Close, Control It

That is how Simon Kuper, columnist for the Financial Times characterizes the Dutch approach to sex and drugs.  His is the first European column to review my book, Not Under My Roof.  Kuper, who is British, spent part of his adolescence in the Netherlands, where coincidentally he lived across the street from my home when I was teenager.  This insider-outsider perspective make him particularly well situated to grasp cultural differences.  He explains how the Dutch approach is far from “permissive” as it is often viewed across the Atlantic.  Don’t miss this incisive commentary, sweetened by a good dose of humor.

The Sleepover Dilemma

Wondering where Canadians stand on matters of teen sexuality, gender and parenting?  Read Macleans Magazine’s “The Sleepover Dilemma.”  Journalist Anne Kingston interviewed me about my book, Not Under My Roof, talked with parents, youths and other experts, and captures the many complexities of the topic.  She quotes me saying about “the Dutch model”:

It provides a context that “not only allows young people to develop their emergent sexuality and selves within a larger social fabric but it also gives parents the opportunity to provide guidance and exercise oversight.”

Kingston also interviewed Karen Rayne, an Austin Texas-based psychologist, who provides consulting to parents of adolescents.  Rayne makes some great points:

Adolescents, like all human beings, have “skin hunger,” the need to be touched and to touch, Rayne says. “But many teenagers have only one model for this: intercourse. So having conversations about sensuality rather than sex can go a long way.” And parents want to forge close bonds with their teenagers, and to have influence over them, she believes. “But they do all of these controlling things that put them at odds with their teenager rather than drawing them in closer.”

One of the young people interviewed shows what an impact good parent-teen communication about sex and relationships can have:

Rockman’s daughter, Casey Fulford, says she’s fortunate to have had open rapport about sex with her parents. “I loved that I could tell my mom anything,” the 20-year-old, third-year Queen’s University student says. “I’m meeting people now, some of them never have talked about sex with their parents—that they’re even having sex. Which is weird because it means they can’t go to them with questions.” The big lesson her mother imparted was, “You can always say no,” Fulford says. “And that was even before I started having sex. And that really benefited me. I know a lot of girls have gotten into situations they wished they hadn’t, but I’ve never done anything I’ve regretted.”

To read more


Stay tuned for the Canadian Perspective

There has been a lot of interest coming from journalists in Canada in the topic of adolescent sexuality, parenting and culture, and in the public discussion sparked by my research and oped in last July’s New York Times.  This week Canada’s Macleans Magazine — which, I am told, is like a cross between the New Yorker and Time Magazine — will be running a story on the topic, for which I was recently interviewed.  I have several radio interviews scheduled over the next month with Canadian hosts, and I look forward to learning more about the Canadian perspective.

Economics and the “Eew Factor”

In the NYT Sunday Review (Sept 25), NPR’s Gregory Warner, citing Census data, notes: “Adults between the ages of 25 and 34 are living in multigenerational households at a rate not seen since 1950.”  For large segments of the American population, having adult children move back in with their parents signals failure. However, as Warner explains, this stigma simply is not present in many immigrant communities, including the family of his Russian wife.  There he observes parents who hold pride in children who remain at home while saving for the future, and who relish their time spent together.  Warner writes:

And then I think of so many American parents, who struggle to hide their disappointment when they tell their friends that their adult children have — oh dreaded words — “moved back in.” What child wouldn’t want to escape from that shadow into the trappings of independence, even if it meant tumbling into indebtedness?

to read more

In my book, Not Under My Roof, I find that many American parents not only see financial independence as a yard stick for adulthood; they also believe that “breaking away” from home earns youth the right to engage in sex.  But what happens when it becomes harder and harder for young people to attain financial independence, even after completing college?  Will this change lead to a re-evaluation of our criteria  for adulthood, success, and autonomy?  And what happens when multigenerational living becomes more common.  Might that change, diminish the power of the “eeuw factor” of teenage sex, as Kep at Youthink suggests, and make it easier for parents to provide guidance?

I think that the sex issue with parents is primarily motivated by “eeeeeewwwww” factor more than anything, and I think because we’re entering into an era that’s more likely to have multigenerational living, I think those rules and norms will probably recede in favor of parents taking a more of a mentoring role for older teens as far as establishing normal, healthy adult relationships.

How I got here

In a recent article, I describe the personal and professional experiences that led me to research and write this book about cultural differences between the United States and the Netherlands.   On the Social and Behavioral Sciences website of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, you can read the story of how I got here:

The book is the result of personal experience, education and research. “My parents moved to the Netherlands from the U.S. when I was young,” Schalet says. “I returned to the U.S. as a college student almost two decades later. My research on cultural differences at the University of California Berkeley, where I earned my PhD, was inspired by observations that came from moving between these countries. Because both are rich democracies, they often are thought of as similar, but in fact they have very different prevailing cultural beliefs and practices—including approaches to teenage sexuality.

To read more

What People Are Saying

A lot of different things. I am referring to the discussions, sparked by The Sleepover Question, about how parents can best respond to their children’s sexual maturation.  Today the New York Times published several letters to the editor.

One of the most interesting discussions, with a nice mix of opinions, can be found among New York Times’ columnist Lisa Belkin readers’ commentsCarrie Seim at Guyspeakcom asked men and women about their experiences with “the talk” and got many different answers.

At, pajamasmedia, and clutchmagazineonline, you can find discussions across the political and cultural spectrum.  Anne Engelland, MD gives her perspective as an adolescent medicine specialist. And Caroline Miller at the Child Mind Institute responds to the article with these words:

What’s most compelling here is the idea that teenagers don’t necessarily have to drift off into a parallel universe, leaving their parents out of touch with where they are and what they’re doing—and even more important, who they’re becoming

Meanwhile, I continue to receive very moving responses from parents.  One came from a mother who, when asked whether I could quote from her email, wrote:

Yes, of course you may quote from my e-mail. Thank you for asking. I have never written to a newspaper, magazine, author, etc. like this before. The fact that I felt compelled to write to you reflects how important this issue is to me now.

Earlier, she had written:

Until I happened to see your recent NY Times Opinion article, I was unfamiliar with your work. Your article made me so happy because I have been instinctively handling sex issues with my teenage daughter in the same way that most Dutch parents do.

When my daughter was little, I NEVER would have predicted that I’d handle things that way (sometimes I still can’t believe it), but when she was 17 and the issue of sex with her boyfriend came up, my heart and my gut told me to respect her decision, listen to her, and use the opportunity to guide her so that she’d be making safe, healthy choices. At the time, nothing else made sense because my husband and I realized that she was going to have sex whether or not we approved. So we let her make her own decision about whether or not to have sex, although I talked with her about it a LOT, I went with her to the doctor’s office when she got on the pill (which she was already on before she had sex for the first time), and we let her have sex with her boyfriend in our house and allowed him to sleep over with her. He was very much a part of our family while they were together, and although they broke up after almost two years, he still stays in touch with me regularly.

I am telling you all this because while I didn’t have any doubts about the way my husband and I dealt with these issues, I felt like I had to keep it a secret from most of my friends and family because I knew they would judge me and think I was crazy. I know absolutely no one who has handled their teens’ sex issues this way, and I know a lot of parents of teens. People just do not do things this way in the U.S. I felt isolated and worried that people would find out. Frankly, it was kind of a difficult, lonely time. Reading your article made me feel like I wasn’t crazy – I did the right thing! And there are some parents out there in the world who ‘get’ that!

As comments to an an earlier post show, there are other American parents who have decided to permit sleepovers for older teens.  I wonder how common it is for American parents who make this decision to feel the same way as the mother quoted above?  Comment welcome as always.


Amy Schalet is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Read More...