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.


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