Let’s Talk about Love … with Teenage Boys

Today, I published an article asking why we do not talk about love and intimacy with teenage boys.  One survey I discuss in this article always elicits strong responses from my students, especially the men: it’s a survey that shows that boys in the US chose having a girlfriend and no sex over having sex and no girlfriend by two to one.  Why is the majority response such a secret?  And why does reading about it cause such a sense of revelation?  Perhaps because as a society, we don’t acknowledge that it is normal for young men to value relationships.  Read more here

Science and Sex Education

Several co-authors and I recently published an article about science and sex education policy.  We show a disconnect between the state of most U.S. sex education and a great deal of the relevant science on adolescent sexuality. There is a wealth of evidence, for instance, showing that gender equity promotes, and gender stereotyping undermines, sexual health.  Sadly, most U.S. sex education policy and programming does not address gender equity or gender stereotyping. We hope that this will change!

Interview on the Takeaway

Today is Not Under My Roof’s official publication date and I was interviewed on NPR’s “The Takeaway” this morning.  Here you can listen to my conversation with hosts John Celeste Headlee and John Hockenberry and to the story of one family, dealing with sex and teenagers.

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


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.

The Hearts of Boys

Today’s New York Times has a fantastic article about the research of New York University’s professor in developmental psychology, Niobe Way.  Dr. Way writes about the significance of close friendships between boys, and the heartbreak that results when boys lose those friendships, as they often do when they enter their mid-teens.  She urges us to create a cultural climate that allows boys to love their friends.  In my own research, I find that US parents and teens tend to characterize boys as heartless, and just driven by hormones, in their pursuit of sex.  But many US boys have a strong desire for romantic intimacy (see for example the young man featured in an earlier blog post).  Dr. Way’s research gives us important insights into the hearts of boys and the damage that is done when we don’t nurture them.

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

The Sleepover Question–Continued

On Sunday, I wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, The Sleepover Question.  The article looks at how and why American and Dutch parents respond differently to the question of whether teenage couples should be permitted to spend the night together.  Stay tuned for the book, Not Under My Roof:  Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, which provides a multi-faceted analysis of the complex issues involved in comparing between cultures, teen sexuality and parenting.  In the meantime, in this post I’m responding to some readers’ responses to the article.

I have been following the conversations that have been happening on the blogosphere and noticed that in several posts, there is some confusion about my research and conclusions.  So to clarify a couple of points:  1) I asked parents about the sleepover with regard to 16 and 17-year-olds, not younger teens.  2) Of course, parents must make their own decisions about whether/when to permit a sleepover, based on their beliefs and their assessment of their adolescent child’s development and relationship.

3) Regardless of whether or not parents think sleepovers are right for their family/adolescent, many parents and youth can benefit from greater openness around sexuality.  Research has found that parents often start talking about contraception and other important sex-related topics after their children have already started engaging in sexual intimacy.  Research also shows that youth respond more positively to “the talk” when talks about sexuality are frequent and communicate parental openness, skill and comfort.  My study suggests that in addition, greater openness can strengthen the parent-teen bond, and thereby enhance parental influence.

Some emails I received asked for information that other readers may also find useful, like the comparison between the US and Netherlands in terms of pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates, which can be found here.  Another reader was concerned that many girls in the US have sex when they are not ready.  In this article, I review some of the US and Dutch research on this issue.

One of the most moving letters I have received in response to the NYT opinion piece focuses not on the question of the sleepover, but on the larger issues that are at stake—whether young people can and may form emotionally intimate relationships and become sexually intimate within them.  This email comes from an 18-year old young man who sums up beautifully the cultural contradictions that he faces, as a teenage male in a committed and sexually intimate, romantic relationship.

It is hard to grow up in an America that treats its teens like children. After all, if everyday we hear on the news how our brains are completely undeveloped and how we as teens are completely morally inept won’t that become a self-fulfilling prophecy? The sad part is that because of this attitude no one tries to promote sex within committed relationships in high school and college. So called ‘conservative’ students and adults say sex is almost always wrong outside of marriage but an equally destructive group promotes sex as only a physical act that shouldn’t be moderated at all.

This leaves those in a relationship demonized with the one-night standers by conservatives and attacked as naive romantics by the one night standers and sexual ‘liberals’. As I prepare for college I hear only about how I either shouldn’t have a relationship in college so I can get the ‘college experience’ or that I should constantly remain focused to avoid all the temptations in college.  In my opinion this viewing of teens as sex crazed animals who either need to let it all go or lock it down until marriage is a major cause of stress to many teens like me who just want to grow up and find love.



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