A professor of sociology wrote a week or so ago in the
New York Times that American family life might be much improved if parents
in the US were more like those in the Netherlands who — typically, it is
implied — allow their teenage daughters to have their boyfriends sleep over in
the family home, or sons to have their girlfriends do the same.
Citing Dutch “openness” on the subject of teenagers and sex
is a favourite sport amongst sex researchers and our Dutch cousins are always
painted in very virtuous colours. In this instance:
The Dutch parents I interviewed regard teenagers, girls and
boys, as capable of falling in love, and of reasonably assessing their own
readiness for sex. Dutch parents like Natalie’s talk to their children about
sex and its unintended consequences and urge them to use contraceptives and
practice safe sex.
This is meant to sound very responsible and humane. I have a feeling that hordes of Dutch parents would be shocked to learn that they were the world’s leading promoters of teenage sex. In any case, your
average American parent will not, I’m sure, be convinced. And in a letter to the
Times, a doctor who actually deals with adolescents knocks the idea soundly on the head.
His letter is worth quoting in full:
As a physician engaged in a busy child and adolescent psychiatry practice, I
couldn’t disagree more with the conclusions made by Amy Schalet in “The
Sleepover Question” (Sunday Review, July 24).
Most teenagers do not have a way of fully understanding in advance the
intensity of emotions they are likely to experience the first time they engage
in a sexual relationship. Their capacity for managing emotions and making good
judgments continues to develop into young adulthood.
Clinically, I see far too many teenagers with symptoms of anxiety or
depression, problems with substance abuse or self-injurious behavior because
they were not yet mature enough for sex.
“Accepting attitudes” about sexual behavior under the family’s roof may
reduce conflict between parents and their teenagers, but at what cost to the
emotional well-being of our kids?
Chagrin Falls, Ohio, July 24, 2011
The writer is an associate professor of psychiatry at Northeast Ohio
Common sense on the subject of sex does sometimes appear in America’s paper of record.