After hearing UMass/Amherst sociology professor Amy Schalet speak at a conference sponsored by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, I was intrigued to read her book Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the Culture of Sex, which proved to be a fascinating and well-researched analysis of the contrasting ways parents in the Netherlands and the United States typically handle teen sexuality.
Parent-youth connectedness is very important for young people's sexual health, including delay of sexual activity. In fact, positive communication between parents and children helps establish family and individual values, enabling young people to make healthier, safer, and better-informed decisions. Schalet points out that U.S. parents tend to have a less open approach that "dramatizes" adolescent sexuality, while parents in the Netherlands have a more open approach that serves to "normalize" teen sexual development. Ironically, what may seem like a more permissive approach actually allows Dutch parents to stay connected and involved in their kids' emotional and sexual development and provides them more control and influence over their teens' decision-making regarding sexuality.
Normalizing teenage sexuality has helped the Netherlands achieve one of the lowest teen pregnancy and STI (sexually transmitted infection) rates in the world. In contrast, Schalet asserts that the more conservative approach taken by many U.S. parents may cause our teens to disconnect and avoid speaking with their parents about issues of sexuality. As a result, U.S. parents often miss opportunities to provide guidance to their teens, and America has the highest teen pregnancy and STI rates among the world's most developed countries.
This book affirmed what I have seen through my work -- that the key is for parents to remain open to conversations with their kids about relationships, decision-making, and sexual health. This isn't always easy, but there are parent education programs such as Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts' Let's Be Honest that are here to help.
Not Under My Roof is consistent with findings of a recent poll called Let's Talk: Are Parents Tackling Crucial Conversations about Sex?, released by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and NYU's Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health. The poll found that while the majority of U.S. parents are talking with their teens about some subjects related to sexuality, they are less likely to talk about tough topics such as how to say no to sex and the importance of using birth control.
I encourage parents to talk with and support their children in making decisions that foster healthy relationships and healthy sexuality.