Friday, May 14, 2010

Parenthood on Teen Sex

In Episode 9, Adam and Kristina’s daughter Haddie orders a lacy bra from Victoria’s Secret.  The bra is intercepted by her parents, who confront her.  Kristina asks her directly if she is having sex with her boyfriend Steve, a question Haddie evades.  Later, Adam pursues Haddie to Steve’s house, wherein he finds the two of them in flagrante.  He promptly orders Haddie home, an order she defies unsuccessfully.

I have a love-hate relationship with Parenthood:  on the one hand, so much talent and promise; on the other, so much wasted opportunity.  The characters seem to spend a lot of effort not having adult (by which I mean direct and purposeful) conversation.

Adam’s conflict with Haddie overlaps his efforts to teach his nephew Drew some dancing skills in preparation for an upcoming school dance.  Drew (in his painfully awkward and shy way) is attracted to a girl he knows will be at the dance, and wants to make a good impression.  Drew’s precise agenda remains unspoken, but Haddie perceives a double standard and complains to Adam that he is on the one hand helping Drew “socialize” (I forget the exact word she used, except that it wasn’t “have sex”) with a classmate, but wouldn’t let her “be with” (ditto) Steve.  Adam replies: yes, there is a double standard; no, it’s not fair; and life’s not fair.  You’re my daughter, and this is the way it’s going to be.

A few thoughts:

The double standard – sons are encouraged or permitted to have sex with girls while daughters are discouraged or forbidden from having sex with boys – is such a long-running staple of “family” entertainment dealing with teen sex that it is easy to forget what a failure of liberalism it represents.  A number of bloggers – Ferdinand and Roissy come to mind – straightforwardly embrace this double standard.  But Ferdinand and Roissy are not liberals and, I suppose, are prepared to recognize the idea that some conflicts are intrinsically permanent.  But how to explain mainstream Hollywood’s embrace of permanent conflict?  Reciprocity is supposedly the Great Liberal Ethic, and, to this conservative, entirely appropriate in this case; after all, the 7th Commandment requires the “preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity”, in the words of the Shorter Catechism.  If all parents value their daughters’ sexual virtue (or whatever), then they should likewise agree to restrain the trespasses of their own sons.  Yet here, liberal Hollywood would rather have parents engage in proxy warfare with their own offspring.

Adam, at least, is no hypocrite:  he doesn’t bother addressing himself to Steve, the boy eager to plunder his daughter, or to Steve’s parents, with whose tacit permission this was about to occur.

What, exactly, are Adam’s expectations of Haddie?  I mean, as a Christian, I have told my daughters since they could walk:  no sex outside of marriage.  God says so.  I say so.  This is bright, easily defensible line.  (I will get back with you in five or ten years to let you know how it worked out.)  But the Braverman family obviously doesn’t believe this to be a worthwhile standard, so . . . well, what is the standard?  Does Adam expect Haddie to remain a virgin until marriage?  Until college?  Until she’s “mature” (whatever that means)?

I suspect the answer is:  as long as Mom and Dad can prevent her.  Indeed, this is specifically the advice that Adam’s sister Sarah gives him:  delay his daughter’s sexual activity as long as possible.  But there is little here to give Haddie a reason to keep her virginity, or even to respect her father’s authority for its own sake.  Ultimately, it’s a contest of will and power between father and daughter.

At the other extreme is Trumwill’s approach.  Trumwill anticipates giving his children self-interested reasons to think very hard before having sex.   They are good reasons – in the case of his son, scary good reasons – but absent from them is any reference to an authority beyond themselves.

But I have a question for my readers.  How would a father reply to a daughter who, in apparently full possession of her faculties, tells him that she has calculated the risk-reward ratios, given due regard to her own reputation and moral standards, taken all available precautions, and is ready to get boned?

I see several defensible responses:

  • “God says you have to be married.  As your father, God has entrusted me with the authority to compel your obedience to His will.”
  • “The law says you have to be 18.  As your father, the law has entrusted me with the authority to compel your obedience to the applicable statutes.”
  • “I’m not paying for another man’s lay.  If this young man wants to have sex with you, then he can support you.  So keep your knickers on or pack your bags.”
  • “Will he be staying for dinner?”

Are there others?


samsonsjawbone said...

I mean, as a Christian, I have told my daughters since they could walk: no sex outside of marriage.

Really? I'm curious how exactly you've addressed this. Mine are still too young for any version of The Talk, but I thought yours were as well. Perhaps I've developed parental naivete already, though, and 10-ish is not overly early.

Φ said...

Samson: If by The Talk you mean a discussion of the technicalities, then no, we (and here I mean Mrs. Φ since the job will eventually fall to her) haven't done that yet. So in a sense, we are giving her moral instruction in something she doesn't fully understand, except that it's something that Mommies and Daddies do together to make little girls.

Funny story: back when our older daughter was maybe five or six, Mrs. Φ and I climbed out of bed to find her hiding under it. "I was here the whole time and you didn't even know it!" she announced proudly. For about a week after she was all about how Mommy and Daddy "play and snuggle" as she put it.

Novaseeker said...

I have a son, no daughters, but I don't have a double standard in play, either. My line for him is that it is immoral and against God's will. Ultimately I think that's the only idea that will work, perhaps, long term -- as long as he sticks with the God idea. It's quite possible of course that like many in the college-age range he will ditch that idea, if only temporarily, and with it the reticence to engage in fornication, but I think ultimately the other justifications (legal, etc.) have shorter shelf dates.

Erik said...

I would go with a combination of (B) and (C). I'm not sure (A) is correct, the "compel your obedience" part.

(D) would work, too, if said while spinning the cylinder of the .357

Elusive Wapiti said...

I too have no double-standard in this case. The madonna-whore double standard is just as faulty as the provider-player is for men. And 'slut' is sex-neutral term for me.

"I mean Mrs. Φ since the job will eventually fall to her"

Perhaps you would do well not to abdicate your role in this talk to the missus? Men and fathers carry an authority that Women and mothers tend not to have.

In my book, the first part of (a) has the best odds of working, presuming she is a Believer. Appealing to her faith in God..."Because God says so" a pretty good reason, because she has accountability to a power that will extend beyond the couple of years she has remaining under your roof. The second part of A is pretty weak.

B: The law is an ass, and everyone knows it. Besides, age of consent laws were designed to control male sexuality and as such is usually applicable only to males. I suspect she knows this too. Thus, (b) would only be useful to her friend-boy.

C: The hard part about ultimatums is that you have to be ready to have your bluff called.

D: This one is not bad, since she knows she is doing wrong by following her head "down there" and putting her uterus in the drivers seat. Having her amour stay for dinner adds a small amount of accountability to the situation, since you can get eyeball-to-eyeball with both she and he.

I'm trying to think of a 'scared straight' tactic. Perhaps a trip to the welfare office to gaze upon all of the baby mommas there?

trumwill said...

The problem with (C) is that if it occurs it increases the likelihood of "just making the problem go away." That's one of the reasons that I emphasize the threat of pregnancy far more for the guy than the girl in my scenarios.

The problem with (B) is that it's not true in most states. I might use that a variation of it where applicable, though.

Ultimately, though, I would probably fall down on (D). At that point, the battle is lost and the best I can do is re-emphasize the importance of wearing protection and to remind her that she can stop at any point in the process if she has second thoughts.

I might also try one last-ditch manipulative effort by having her mother or I go over contraception and have the "sex talk" under the idea that there's nothing unsexier than your parent (particularly your opposite-sex parent, though I might leave it to Clancy since it falls into her area of expertise) talk about sex. The only concern I would have about that is making sure that if I'm talking about contraception that she doesn't view contraception as the unsexy part.

trumwill said...

As far as "the standard" goes, I think that you basically hit it. As long as possible. Within limits, anyway. 18 is better than 16. 20 is better than 18. 22 may be better than 20. After 22 it gets dicier because I start to wonder if there is a problem with the kid's social development.

And yeah, I worry more about my daughter than my son. I think the main reason is that for a son, the ability to acquire sexual partners has an upside as a goalpost of social development. That is far less true of a daughter. So my concern for a sexually active son would be tempered by being glad that he's socially developing into something other than a pariah. My concern for my daughter would not be so tempered, though I would be concerned for her social development as well and would try to help her with things that I think would help her with her social development.

Sheila Tone said...

Phi: Ideally, you will make your opposition known sufficiently so that if she does, she will know not to tell you or let you find out. Therefore, you will never be faced with this problem.

Also, her need not to get caught will hopefully result in her being very cautious, and therefore less likely to experience the problems (such as pregnancy or STDs) that result in being caught.

Will, do you really want your sons to wait until 22 to have sex? If they have a real girlfriend, they're going to have sex with her.

I've got a community-standard view of the situation. I think 18 is the community standard among future professionals in California.

At the age of 13, I will tell my sons: "When you are 18, you are an adult who can make your own decisions and live with the consequences of them. Sex is adult behavior, both in my eyes and in the eyes of the law." I will explain birth control. I will tell some horror stories about my clients. I will do my best to instill a feeling of discomfort, as in: "Ick, we really don't want to screw up and have to deal with mom."

And then please god don't let them want to talk any more about it with me. This is what the Internet is for.

trumwill said...


I hedged 22 with "may be." I think after 20 is a plus so that they have time to get their bearings down in college and that sex is approached as its own thing rather than getting swept into the "I'm freeeeeee!" feeling one gets from college.

The "community standards" standard sounds right to me. It probably says more about my crowd that 20 or even 22 is as likely as 18 in that respect (though I was 18, as it happens).

Φ said...

And yeah, I worry more about my daughter than my son. I think the main reason is that for a son, the ability to acquire sexual partners has an upside as a goalpost of social development.

Trumwill: Unfortunately, and against my principles, I am not immune to this line of thought. Novaseeker and EW are absolutely correct that the ethical standard applies equally to both sexes, but I am inclined to agree that the real-world risk-reward ratios do not apply equally.

What I meant by reciprocity, though, is the Golden Rule. To use an analogy, I tell my children not to, say, dig up the neighbor's flower garden, not because I have an interest in their flower garden for its own sake, but because I want them to likewise restrain their own children with respect to my flower garden.

Perhaps you would do well not to abdicate your role in this talk to the missus?

EW: Mmmm . . . I dunno. Morality is one thing. But the what-goes-where discussion is painful enough for adolescents without having to have it with the opposite sex parent. Then again, maybe Trumwill is right that having it with the opposite sex parent will sufficiently traumatize them in a way that the Seventh Commandment would not.

(D) would work, too, if said while spinning the cylinder of the .357

Erik: or rack the slide of a .45 ACP?

But in all seriousness, (D) would never be an option for me. I can forgive almost anything of a daughter who repents. But who defiantly lives in sin? No. I don't have an especially principled reason for saying this, but a daughter who ever thought (D) was a possibility would quickly discover Daddy's mean streak.

Dexter said...

Relevant discussion at Thinking Housewife this week:

for a son, the ability to acquire sexual partners has an upside as a goalpost of social development.

True, but how this happens is important. I don't regard the ability to acquire meaningless hookups as a plus for the boy (sorry, Roissy). The ability to acquire partners within the context of a relationship is much more of a plus. I'd be a lot happier if the boy had lots of dates but no sex rather than lots of sex and no dates (and believe me, from what I hear this is more than possible).

trumwill said...

What I meant by reciprocity, though, is the Golden Rule.

That's a quite good point. It's a rather selfish view on my part to care more about my son's social development than the eggs that get broken along the way. I am concerned enough that I would be very upset to find out that my son had manipulated his way across that finish line, but I am enough of a relativist to consider that the girl on the other end of the interaction and her family may well not see it that way.

My response would be different if I knew the other parents to have liberal views on sexuality or if I knew them to be extremely conservative.

Jehu said...

If you're really serious about wanting your children to remain chaste until marriage, and I think you are, I have a suggestion.
Aim towards helping them be prepared to be married at an earlier age (say 20-22, perhaps even earlier) and towards helping them find a suitable partner. I've known a fair number of homeschooled kids that have done this and they've done just fine. No sex until marriage is a MUCH easier sell when marriage comes fairly early then if it happens in one's mid thirties. You're more likely to get lots of grandchildren that way too.

trumwill said...

I'm not the target audience of Jehu's suggestion, but I have difficulty having much faith in my child's ability to find a lifelong partner at 20-22. I am also skeptical that they would take my advice. Or that they should. My mother wouldn't have done a terrible job of setting me up, but it's unlikely that she would have picked anyone of roughly the quality of my wife.

Φ said...

Jehu: I agree in spirit; but, as Trumwill suggests, the devil is in the details.

My job, as a parent, is to teach my children maturity and responsibility as quickly as they can learn them. If I succeed, then sure, they would be "ready" to get married by age 20 - 22. But that's a mighty big "if".

And has for "helping them find a suitable partner"? Lordy, I wouldn't even know how to go about that project! I think I could do a fair job of screening candidates, but how would I go about generating candidates?

Another practical problem: we are, regretably, prisoners of our class expectations regarding education. I really couldn't encourage them to get married before graduating from college (and at the service academies, they wouldn't be allowed to).

Trumwill: I'm not sure I would be much enamored with whom my Mom picked out for me either, given the range of options. In fact, I would generalize by saying that moms are remarkably obtuse about sons' priorities. I can't speak for daughters.

Jehu said...

Trumwill: Raising your kids to be ready for marriage by 20-22 is a long project. It usually involves homeschooling them so that you aren't outgunned by the culture around you in terms of setting expectations. If you do this, you're unlikely to have terribly rebellious teenagers---frankly most cultures don't. In terms of helping them to find suitable partners, you use your networking skills to introduce them to like minded members of the opposite sex who would have similar value in a sexual free market. This means you can't have any illusions about what men or women want (no attempting to fix your handsome young son up with a girl who has a 'good personality' or vice versa). Similar world view, similar attractiveness to the opposite sex, bonding effect of being each other's first sexual partner gives pretty good odds for a workable marriage.
Most of what I said to Trumwill applies. You should probably have more input than your wife into generating potential partners because you likely have a far more realistic appraisal of what the respective partners want and have to offer. Insofar as educational expectations of the culture are concerned, I offer the following:
Christians should not subordinate their beliefs to such expectations, especially at the level of what doctrine they're effectively preaching.
A lot of people have managed to get degrees while married before they become accustomed to a higher standard of living. My own mother, in fact, was married and raising her first son while she was a freshman working on her degree in chemistry.
Just because the partners are married doesn't mean you have to automatically deny them any help you'd been planning for getting through college.
For financial aid purposes, them being married basically severs your income and assets from all of the calculations made by the government and the university. They might well pay a lot less than otherwise.

trumwill said...

Had my mother been involved in the partner-selection process, she would have zeroes in on nice girls from good families with similar values with whom I could not relate to at all. I ended up marrying a nice girl from a good family with similar values that I bonded with instantly. The difference between the last point of the two is not something Mom would be able to discern (just as surely as the rest are things I did not take properly into account when I was 20).

Interestingly enough, it would be "generation" that Mom would have excelled at. She knew everybody and rigidly kept track of the progress of their children. She could also be proactive. When I was in high school, she arranged a youth group treasure hunt so that I would be teamed up with the girl that I was very (very, very, very, very) into at the time. I barely had to even ask.

samsonsjawbone said...

@Novaseeker: I agree with the thrust of your first comment. The other week I attended a program for youth that is aimed at encouraging them not to abuse alcohol. The program involves a fairly impressive live-action dramatization of how exactly an alcohol-induced car crash might unfold; they bring in props such as a smashed car, and then the local police and fire department participate, etc. It's quite something to watch – as an adult. But I left wondering: as great as this is, what is the real impact on the kids? I just don't think young people respond to fear, whether that is fear of STIs, fear of consequences of pregnancy, or whatever. I tend to agree that the only thing that will convincingly keep a college-age young person from extra-marital sex is the honest-to-goodness ingrained belief that sex is something reserved for marriage. And if you teach them that from infancy, but they jettison it anyway? Well... part of parenthood, as far as I can see, is accepting that your kids just may not turn out the way you want them to. Sometimes life is hard, you know?

@Jehu: you don't, by chance, read Boundless? Maybe not, but you echo a lot of their points. For those unfamiliar, Boundless is a ministry of Focus on the Family that is aimed at the college-age demographic, and its express purpose is to encourage thoughts of marriage and family formation among that set. I'm a big fan of Boundless, personally; a few years ago they were quite an influence in pushing me towards marriage and they've really impacted my life in a positive way. It's a site I routinely recommend to unmarried twenty-somethings.

One of the things they often suggest is to re-think our culture's norms regarding age of marriage. As Jehu points out, it's by no means impossible to marry earlier and pursue education while married, even if our culture ridicules this idea. For me, the most compelling drawback to this concept has always been what trumwill expressed: that when I was in my early twenties I still had a lot of maturing to do and had I selected a mate, it probably would've been a poor choice. Nonetheless, there are good points to be made about the fact that marrying early just means that you grow up together, and hopefully grow closer in the process, rather than being jaded by the time you finally make it to the altar.

samsonsjawbone said...

As far as what Jehu says about aiding your daughters' pursuit of marriage, this is another topic frequently discussed at Boundless, and unlike the previous topic, it's one that I have no misgivings about. In fact, mostly through FotF and Boundless, I have become very firmly convinced that helping our younger brothers and sisters in Christ find suitable marriage partners is something Christians really ought to be involved in.

Your question - “How on earth would I go about doing that?” - is a reasonable one, but that doesn't mean there's no good answer to it. I believe it's quite biblical to argue, on the basis of Hebrews 10:25 and verses like it, that the Christian faith is a communal one; that members of the body of Christ have obligations to each other, and one of those obligations is helping keep the church community alive and healthy. And look, I'm a fairly introverted person. I don't always like social gatherings. But even I have come round to the belief that I have responsibilities to the community. So, for example, my wife and I have already agreed that within the context of our local Christian body, we are going to take on the role of helping facilitate marriage for young people. Not that we are going to hound folks (“Get married or else!”), but we are going to make conscious efforts to get to know who is single and seeking marriage, and what their character is like, and how to introduce them to each other, and so forth.

It's a big topic, and I can only scratch the surface here, but suffice it to say that there are TONS o' young Christians out there yearning for marriage that would love some help from older people in the church, because our society gives them SFA in terms of marital instruction. I believe it's a real failing of the church to have simply left young people to kind of figure it out for themselves and hope for the best. If you like, think of it this way: how is the current model – in which young people are more or less completely left to themselves to figure out what marriage is, how they're going to do it, how they're going to get there, who they should consider spending their time with – how is that model working out for society?

Jehu said...

You are quite on the mark that the church is a community, and thus has reciprocal obligations with its members. Churches used to provide a lot more of a social scene to their members, and far more assistance and guidance in their 'pairing off'. Things like church dances and the like are frankly huge. I can't say I'm terribly familiar with Boundless, but I'm friendly with Focus on the Family. I would probably be a lot more familiar with the various ministries of Focus if I were culturally Christian (i.e., had grown up in a heavily Christian family). I agree completely that the existing model in our culture of sex, marriage, and the relations between the sexes helps nobody but the Roissys of our culture.

Φ said...

Samson: I'm not familiar with Boundless either, but it's off to a bad start when the second article on its website is a dismissal of moral concerns about female romance novels.

But assuming the ministry is unobjectionable, it is not, in itself, a substitute for a community that shares the goal of encouraging and supporting younger marriage. My experience in evangelical churches is hear the sex drive -- and especially the male sex drive -- dismissed in various ways. Some of these ways are more useful that others, but nowhere have church leaders said: We get it; let's facilitate your procreative instincts in a Biblical manner.

Jehu: the above is part of what I meant by being a prisoner of our culture: the culture impacts the attitudes of even the families we meet in church.

Trumwill: your mom sounds a lot like mine -- totally wired into the community. Yet somehow, this almost never translated into generating even playmates, let alone dates -- for me personally.

Jehu said...

About the only groups that think most of my ideas in the above sphere are nonobjectionable are the hard core religious homeschoolers. To find a church that is serious about what Catholics call 'The Theology of the Body' from an evenhanded perspective with respect to both men and women, I'd suggest two things. First, look for a church that has approximately equal numbers of men and women. A few elderly widows unmatched to their deceased partners is fine, but 60%+ female membership on a typical Sunday is not. A church that is near 50-50 is much more likely to be orthodox on such concerns and to not dislike men as men. Men go where they're wanted and stay where they're well treated---kind of like money honestly. The second indicator is that the pastor either homeschools his children or is exceptionally supportive of such. Churches that are into homeschooling also tend to be way more orthodox, and way more friendly to classic patriarchy. Mostly this is true because of the practical concerns of homeschooling.

ironrailsironweights said...

If Haddie were able to think faster on her feet she could've told her parents that she bought the lacy bra to impress the other girls in the locker room. But then I guess the episode wouldn't have worked :)


trumwill said...

A lot of what Jehu is advocating is relatively common practice in the LDS church. Prior to moving out west, I had never seen a church take such a pro-active stance in getting their congregants paired off in a timely manner and within the church. Not sure what the average age of marriage for Mormons is, but it certainly looked to me like it paid off. I remember being mildly envious of the assistance they received that I had not.

There's a lot that I don't like about the church, but their social institutions are (though unsettling in some respects) quite impressive.

trumwill said...

Yet somehow, this almost never translated into generating even playmates

I never got dates, but did get playmates. It was a mixed bag. Mom's connections got me friends. A number of whom I wish I had never had in my life but couldn't get rid of.

Jehu said...

Mormon orthodoxy is horrid---the Catholics, for instance don't even consider them heretics but rather an entirely different religion. But their orthopraxis is pretty good, far better than the mainlines and better than most other Christian groups. They do a far better job of serving as a community and meeting the needs inside that community than do most other churches since at least the 50s and 60s, where a lot of more orthodox churches also played in that space. I'm hoping to pair my kids off when the time comes with other homeschooled kids with similar worldviews and similar positions on the attractiveness hierarchy as viewed by the median member of the opposite sex. I'm also hoping to get my church to expand its efforts along these lines since it has shown that it is in fact into being a community.