15 Jan Great Expectations or Low Expectations
January 15, 2015
Today’s awesome alert by UFI Intern Erika Walker reminds us that parents have a powerful protective influence on their children’s choices. We join with Erika’s “call for parents everywhere to raise the bar. Don’t silently accept that your children will have sex. Set an expectation of abstinence for your children.”
Here’s some encouraging news: According to the National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), even in the midst of an overwhelmingly over-sexualized culture, most U.S. teens are not having sex. The NAEA also reports that the number of teens having sex has declined by 13% since 1991.
Is a sex-ed program in your community including inappropriate or explicit information? Do the sex-ed presenters encourage teens to participate in unhealthy behaviors? If so, please contact info@theNAEA.org right away. They would like to know the name of the community and school, who is presenting the sex-ed program, what class it is being taught in, and what is being taught. We are helping them compile data for an important report.
Being an informed and engaged parent or grandparent might be the best prescription to protect your children from a toxic sexual environment.
Faithfully for Families,
United Families International, President
Great Expectations or Low Expectations?
By Erika Walker
Recently, I read an article about an interview with Duck Dynasty’s Sadie Robertson. Sadie, who recently gained fame for competing on Dancing with the Stars, has taken the world of Hollywood by storm for her outspoken beliefs in Christianity and abstinence until marriage; a position nobody expects a stunningly beautiful teenage girl to stand for, not to mention, a celebrity.
Since the 1950’s, teen sexual activity has become an increasingly accepted practice. However unlike sixty years ago, teens nowadays rarely hear that there is anything wrong with this behavior. In fact, in addition to the constant messages adolescents receive from peers, current television programs, movies, music, and magazines condoning teen sexual activity, it appears that now “parents, doctors, teachers, counselors, and even priests and pastors have given up and given in to teens who want to engage in premarital sex.”
It seems that over time, the view of authority figures has shifted from an expectation for adolescents to remain abstinent until marriage, to an expectation that adolescents will engage in sexual activity regardless of what those in authority say. This shift is evident to teens and is perceived as a permission slip to behave as expected. So with authority figures being silenced for fear of sounding old fashioned, and the rest of the world encouraging teens to explore their sexuality, there is virtually no one advocating for abstinence.
In fact, in an article, published by an online magazine written by teens for teens, entitled “Why Teen Sex Is Totally Fine,” the author, who wrote under the anonymous web-pseudonym “ambnyc,” argues that teen sex is not a big deal. She (I assume it is a she) acknowledges that the adolescent brain is still developing and is therefore subject to make many spur-the-moment decisions, but that does not mean that other people should tell them when they are or are not old enough to do something. “Sex,” she argues, “is a natural part of human life. . . as natural as breathing, eating, or sleeping,” so why should sex be denied to someone solely based on age?
The author then goes on to debate arguments in favor of abstinence such as teenage pregnancy and “the sanctity of marriage,” listing condoms and birth control as the solution to the former, and discounting the validity of “purity” in response to the latter. But the most astonishing claim made by the author was that sex need not be restricted to only those you love. “You can have sex with whoever you want, wherever you want, whenever you want.” She finishes her article by advocating for safe sex, and closes with the statement “I can assure you that everything will turn out fine.”
Beware the Message
Although this article was written by a teenager, this article reflects the views of the world and is a perfect example of the types of messages adolescents are getting both from the media and from their peers. It seeks to convince teens that, despite what authority figures might tell them, there is nothing morally, or otherwise wrong with having sex. I found the opinions of this author completely horrifying, not just because of my religious beliefs, but because of the empirical evidence that suggests otherwise.
Contrary to the opinions of this author, there are negative repercussions of premature, frequent, and casual sex. In the International Journal of Sociology of the Family, authors of “Not Ready For Sex”, Douglas Abbott, Joseph M. White, and Daniel S. Felix, challenged society’s recent acceptance of sexual activity among teens and sought to “explain the emotional and cognitive limitations of adolescence that make premarital sex a poor choice for teens.” Although adolescents appear grownup, they lack adult-level emotional and mental maturity required for “safe sex.” During adolescence the prefrontal cortex is still developing. Because of this neurological construction, “most adolescents lack the full capacity to reason, judge, and evaluate consequences” like a mature adult. As a result, adolescents are prone to engage in irrational, self-centered, and impulsive behavior.
In addition to these cognitive limitations, adolescents also face emotional limitations. According to American developmental psychologist Erik Erikson, one of the main goals of adolescence is identity formation. Once understanding of self is achieved, healthy intimate relationships can be formed. However, “early entry into premarital sexual relationships may undermine the development of both identity and intimacy leaving both tasks unresolved.” So there you have it, despite “ambnyc’s” assurance that as long as teens use contraceptives “everything will turn out fine”, that is not necessarily the case.
Unfortunately, little can be done to change the messages adolescents are exposed to by their peers or the media regarding sex. However, we can be a contrasting voice in the sea of pro-sex messages because let’s face it, if they don’t hear it from us, they aren’t going to hear it at all.
The abstinence message can be heard
Fortunately, contrary to popular belief, our words are not destined to fall on deaf ears. Studies suggest that parental attitudes toward premarital sex does influence adolescents’ sexual activity. Mothers’ disapproval toward premarital sex was found to be particularly important to discouraging adolescent sexual behavior. One study among 8th-11th graders found that “when teens perceive that their mother strongly disapproves of them having sex, they are more likely to delay initial sexual intercourse.” However, adolescents are more likely to pay attention to and accept information from their mothers about sexual topics if they are satisfied with the parent-child relationship.
Adolescent sexual behavior has also been linked to other family factors such as family structure and family processes. Positive family processes such as “parental monitoring, adult supervision, time engaged in family activities, and parental support or connectedness to children have been associated with later age at first intercourse and/or less sexual risk taking.”
Consistent with this research, Sadie Robertson, in her interview, acknowledged her family’s influence on her values and beliefs, but affirmed that abstinence is something she has chosen for herself and decided with her boyfriend. In other words, her parents taught her good values, set high expectations for her, and she’s actually living up to them.
Here is a call for parents everywhere to raise the bar. Don’t silently accept that your children will have sex. Set an expectation of abstinence for your children. Make your position clear. Foster close relationships. Monitor their behavior. And watch them live up to your expectations. Sometimes the difference between making a good and a bad decision is a reason not to.
Be that reason for your teen.
Erika Walker is currently a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho working to complete her bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies. She and her husband, Chris, became first time parents in September. As a wife and mother, she places high value on the institution of marriage, and hopes to be able to help others establish healthy marital relationships.