Mormon. Sexuality is an area of life that brings on risk, with the potential for positive or negative outcomes, success or fa


Sexuality is an area of life that brings on risk, with the potential for positive or negative outcomes, success or failure. This is no more or less true for adolescents. The important difference is that teens do not yet have well-developed risk assessment skills. As in any area of life, if we want teens to be psychologically healthy, we want to promote their learning. This also holds especially true for their sexuality. In our culture, sex is still viewed as a taboo subject. I am interested in teen sexuality and how I might raise a sexually healthy teen, because I have a teenage son.

One parental concern might be the influence of TV and music TV, on teens. Researchers have been investigating this idea. In, “What teens have to say about sex on TV and in music videos” by Scott Simon of Saint Paul Pioneer Press (06/02), he reports what Joseph Shapiro and a group of teens had to say. The Kaiser Family Foundation put groups of 12 –15 year old teens in a room to listen to what they had to say about the sexually explicit TV and music videos on TV today. Mr. Shapiro and Dr. Jane Brown observe these teens.

Dr. Jane Brown, of University of North Carolina, is studying how sex in the media affects teens. She argues that it is very apparent that the teens are developing strong senses of morality. Teens want to be good; they strongly desire to act appropriately. She theorizes that teen sexual attitudes are greatly influenced by the amount of TV they watch.

After the teens viewed a popular Britney Spears video, the teens shared similar opinions. They viewed the skimpily dressed singer, as she went from one male singer to another, grinding her way across the stage. They used words such as gross, nasty, and disgusting to describe Spears’ actions and her clothing. Shapiro and Brown observed that the teens were very judgmental about what they viewed on TV.

Next the teens watched a scene from a sitcom called “Clueless”. In the scene the actress was conversing about who was going to lose their virginity first. The teenage actress was clearly upset, that another teen peer was going to lose her virginity before her. It was perceived as cool to have sex. The actress was upset that her not-as-popular teen peer was going to have sex before her.

Following the clip, the focus group, commented. They felt that the message being sent was that sex is cool, that if they were not having sex, they should be embarrassed. They felt that it was humiliating that the other actresses were laughing at the teen that had not had sex. Berk speaks of the imaginary audience (page 375), that teens always see themselves as on stage. Teens are extremely self-conscious, and avoid embarrassment. Teens would go to great lengths to avoid humiliation, and this scene was clearly showing that. The actress would have rather had sex to avoid peer humiliation.

Later, the focus group discussed the scene from the sitcom targeted to 14 & 15 years old, called “Dawson’s Creek”. The scene was about two teens who were going to have sex for the first time. The teens were not naïve to realize that the TV show was setting up a ‘perfect’ scenario for the first romantic experience. They noticed that the TV show did not mention STD’s. Interestingly, they were not surprised. They commented, “Sex sells”. The teens were perceptive enough to know that TV is a business, and business means money.

Parents want to know, are kids more likely to have sex, if they watch TV? Researchers cannot answer that, exactly, but what they do say is, the more you see the same thing over and over again, the more likely you are to believe it. For instance, a teen girl may have never kissed a boy, but the message of how to do this, has been imprinted in her memory from repeatedly seeing it on TV. She can than model a kiss, and not even know where she learned it from.

In the article, “Teens first sex is at home”, USA Today (09/02), a survey showed that teens were having sex in their homes, or at their partners’ home. This comes as a surprise to many parents. It should not come as a surprise, with the arrival of puberty and hormonal changes, we see the increase of sexual activity. Berk reports that American parents give their children little guidance about sexual information, and that the parents do not converse about sex in the presence of teens (page 360). With teens watching Prime-Time TV and MTV with high sexual content, it is even more important to speak to our kids about sex.

Teens watch approximately 3 hours of TV today, and they see sex glamorized.

Teens are getting mixed messages, at school and at home they are told to stay away from sex. They are taught the dangers of sex, STD’s, AIDS, pregnancy. Peer pressure is at its highest during adolescence. Adolescents mirror their social and emotional environments. Berk teaches us about a cognitive distortion, called the personal fable (page 375). This is easily explained as the “not me” opinion of themselves. Teens get such inflated opinions of themselves they don’t ever think that bad thing can happen to them. TV does not include the dangers of the sexual behavior. Approximately, 50% of teens do not use contraceptives (page 361). Since teens have the highest rate of STD’s of any age group, and TV does not promote sexual education, this message could be extremely dangerous!

In the article, “Teens close to their mothers are less likely to have early sex, study shows” by Tom Majeski of the Saint Paul Pioneer Press (09/02), Majeski reviewed longitudinal studies focusing on the relationship between mothers and their teenage children. More than 5000 teens were followed for over a year. The studies show that the more involved a mother is in a teen’s life; the age of sexual activity is postponed.

Researchers also found that mothers that spoke with other parents influenced the delay in sex. They explain it as, the more you know what is going on around your teen, the more you can influence them positively. Since teens have not mastered combinatorial thinking, they may make the wrong decision. The more a teens’ parents are involved, the greater their awareness of their child’s decisions. This may make the teen more conscious of their actions, for fear of disappointing their parent.

The study showed that mothers were more uncomfortable talking to their daughters than to their sons about sex. Berk might explain this as gender typing (page 401). Society tends to be more relaxed with male sexuality. Society is very harsh on female sexuality, thus this may reflect the way a parent speaks to a teen. It seems that our society sends a message that it is okay for males to be having sex, but it clearly views teen females having sex, very negatively.

Joseph Plambeck of The Tribune wrote a similar article, “Teens who are close to mothers delay having sex, report says” (09/02). The study similarly stated that mothers who were close to their teenage children show a higher delay in sex, than those who were not. Again, the study agreed that the parental involvement with other parents was a strong influencer. The study stated that mothers needed to speak with their teens about their own values.

Education was an important factor stated Plambeck. An interesting finding was that girls whose mothers were college educated, where less likely to become sexually active. I find this interesting, since my son of 14, is actively watching his mothers’ college education.

Parental guidance is most influential, writes Daniel Wood of The Christian Science Monitor, in “Teens, Sex and the Power of Parents”(09/02). This is an overall consensus between all the articles chosen. The article states that when it comes to sex education and teens, along with parental involvement, the way parents speak to their children about sex is also highly important. Warm, open households are the most successful.

The study also says the sex education needs to start as early as the elementary level. That getting parents values into their children’s lives earlier was important. As mentioned earlier, the influence of TV brings sex into our children’s lives earlier and more explicitly, thus, the reason for earlier communication on sexual values. Parents who had high expectations of school, and also having stricter rules made a difference. Berk agrees that warm guidance and rules are positive, both, which are features of the ideal authoritative style of parenting (page 269).

The study reminds us that at this time when a teen is searching for autonomy and identity, parents tend to back off. As a teen is gaining a sense of individuality, the desire for their parents input is less welcomed. This is a crucial time to have a balance in the home. Wood, of The Christian Science Monitor, states that family meals could help bring a more harmonious environment. Erik Erikson refers to this the psychological conflict during these teen years, as identity versus identity confusion (page 390). Erikson said that successful outcomes early, lead to positive resolution.

Teens are battling to understand sex during a period when teenage sexuality is changing. An increasing number of teenagers in the United States have sexual intercourse. If we want adolescents to be sexually healthy, we have to promote their learning to act in their own best interests. With TV, and peer influences being stronger than ever, the need for parental involvement increases. Sexuality can be easier for all, if parents can become more aware of their teens sexuality, and are prepared to give them help or advise when needed. They can help their teen to develop the proper skills and awareness they need to make sexually healthy choices during adolescence.


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