Friends I’m here to spread some good news. You’re ‘tweens and teens are dong better than the internet will let you believe. I try to steer clear of putting myself out there as a parenting expert. Shoes? Yes, I’d say I’m a bit of an expert. Ski holidays with the kids? I’m your gal. Momtrends however rarely weighs in on matters of how to parent nor do I get on my high horse and judge other moms. I believe most of you are doing the best you can.
That’s why it drove me a little bonkers to see a recent article making the rounds on Facebook. The piece had a sensational headline that surely was meant to be link bait: GROWING UP FAST: WHY 12-YEAR-OLD GIRLS ARE HAVING SEX ROUGHER, EARLIER. I read it and was horrified.
I know porn exists and it’s pervasive, but I also know you all are doing a good job with educating your kids about sex and love. How do I know this? One of my dear friends, Brad Snyder is an expert. And he says our kids are alright.
A few years ago I read Brad’s book, The 5 Simple Truths of Raising Kids and it gave me hope. A life raft to cling to in a rough sea on sensationalism. I knew it was time to connect with Brad again. I knew he was the right dad and expert to get a rebuttal. So here we go…by R. Bradley Snyder.
As a father of a tween girl, I was terrified by the article, “Growing Up Fast: Why 12-Year-Old Girls are Having Sex Rougher, Earlier.” Thankfully, like Frankenstein, Nightmare on Elm Street, the television series Two and a Half Men, and other terrifying stories, this widely circulated article about the harmful sexual practices of young teenagers in 2016 is pure fiction.
The fact is that, at least in the United States of America, teenagers are less likely to be sexually active or to be having sex at all compared to teenagers from 20 years ago. Moreover, the percentage of teens who first had sex before the age of 13 is about half of what it was in the early 1990’s. It does not stop here, those teens who are having sex today seem to me to be making better choices with regard to their sexuality. Compared to teenagers in the 1990’s, sexually active teenagers today have fewer partners and are more likely to practice safe sex. As a result, the teen birth rate for the U.S. has never been lower.
Of course, these are just statistics. “Growing Up Fast: Why 12-Year-Old Girls are Having Sex Rougher, Earlier” cites statistics as well. Its statistic on the age at which young females first have sex, for example, comes from a survey by Dolly, an Australian magazine for teenagers, but this topic is too serious to rely on the social science rigor of Tiger Beat, Seventeen, or any other pop culture ‘zine. The statistics I cite are from a massive on-going study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which spares no expense and uses the best methodology possible to capture this data because of their importance to public health.
In fairness to “Growing Up Fast: Why 12-Year-Old Girls are Having Sex Rougher, Earlier,” it is written about teenagers in Australia, and my data are about teenagers in the U.S., where the situation might be different. For instance, that article quotes the Director of the Australian Research Center in Sex, Health and Society as saying that alcohol consumption is up in Australia and that it is related to abusive sexual behaviors. It is unclear whether the Director was referring to all Australians or Australian teenagers specifically, but alcohol use among teenagers in the U.S. has been declining steadily for decades.
To be clear, I am not implying that we have reached acceptable levels for anything. I have spent my life educating, advocating, and building programs to benefit children and youth, and I will continue to work to ensure that young people are empowered to make healthy and responsible choices when it comes to their sexuality and other aspects of their lives. However, I refuse to succumb to hyperbole or operate out of fear. To do so is to grab a pitchfork and torch and chase shadows, as the villagers did in the aforementioned Frankenstein.
In its hysteria, “Growing Up Fast: Why 12-Year-Old Girls are Having Sex Rougher, Earlier” seems to be rallying us all to throw pornography on the pyre to rid society of everything from dating violence to chlamydia. While I distain the ills that cause and result from pornography, scientifically speaking, its culpability is meager compared to the environment in which a child is raised. If you want children to make increasingly healthy and responsible choices, science shows that you should work to surround them with nurturing relationships. No amount of pornography or lack thereof can compete with that.
Whew, thanks Brad for letting me sleep a little better tonight. I know my hard work of parenting isn’t done. Hand wringing and hyperbole aren’t going to help me along the way. I highly recommend you all pick up Brad’s book, but more importantly, make time to connect with your sons and daughters about sexuality.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. we’ve got to keep talking, keep supporting and keep leading with love, not with fear. I hope the next time you see that article being forwarded you attach a link to this rebuttal. Facts are powerful things.