Many parents cherish the thought of their children as cute little moppets learning their ABCs, but perish the thought of their offspring growing into awkward teenagers requiring that talk about the birds and the bees. How do parents take on the task of telling their children about sex in a culture that has already taught them all the wrong lessons about it?
In an article for the Abstinence Network, Baylor University professor John F. Tanner Jr. came up with six simple rules to raise children to get through their teenage years without the burdens or perils of premarital sex. Start the conversation early. Set rules about dating. Don't let your own past hold you back. Talk about the future, and how dramatically sex can change that. Realize that abstinence is a lifestyle, not a single make-or-break decision. And finally, and perhaps unavoidably, use the media to start conversations. Tanner says children consider parents "a much stronger influence than they do the media, but they have to know what you think to be influenced."
It's the last part -- using the media to start conversations -- that troubles. The logic is reasonable in one sense. Children are being bombarded by sexual material every day, and it's folly to presume that my child is immune from the onslaught. It's best to address it, and not deny it, but address it how?
Today's children are likely to find sex talk within moments of turning on the tube, on nearly every sitcom and drama, even on the so-called "family shows." Oral sex, masturbation, vibrators, threesomes, gay relationships -- youngsters can hear all about these subjects from watching a few weeks of network TV.
A lot of the sex on the tube takes place between consenting adult characters, and that's bad enough. But an even more pressing issue is how Hollywood's TV titans present the struggles of teenagers. Perhaps the wildest new example of caricatured teens is an ABC show pretentiously titled "life as we know it," with no capitalization.
The show centers around three teenage boys: Dino, Ben and Jonathan. To give us a clue about how low this show sinks, the series begins with Dino and Ben harassing Jonathan into a scenario where "you have to sleep with one of these two people" -- Mom or Dad. To say the series goes downhill from there is almost inconceivable -- but it does.
The camera, using the teen-boy point of view, regularly focuses on female body parts -- the students, the teachers, the gyrating cheerleaders. One of the boys asks, "how are you supposed to go to school when all you can think about is sex?" This ought to be where the TV parents come in and knock some sense into them. Forget it. On this show, the adults are just as raunchy and infantile as the kids.
For example, in the first episode, Jonathan's in the bathroom when his mother knocks on the door. His father calls out, "God, Mary, give the kid a break. He's probably masturbating." Jonathan replies, "Hey! I can hear you! Go away! And I'm shaving!" His father then says, "Whatever. It's all good. Take your time, son." Would Hollywood give us a nickel for every time they've made a lame joke about a teenage boy overusing the bathroom for masturbation?
ABC signed up Radio Shack, Minute Maid and Papa John's for lots of nickels. Do thank them for sponsoring this trash, would you?
The main beginning storylines are these: Dino is preparing to deflower his girlfriend Jackie, but then he's shaken by catching his still-married mom having sex with his hockey coach. Ben is starting up an affair with one of his teachers, who is young and gorgeous, so everyone is supposed to understand. Jonathan is struggling with his desire to have sex with his girlfriend Deborah, but his friends make fun of her for being fat. Every plotline is about sex, period.
Can you imagine trying to talk honestly with your teenager after this parade? Parents could use a little help from Hollywood to negotiate these troublesome rapids. Instead, the entertainment elite is the enemy, almost chanting -- get it now, do it now, have it now, don't be a nerd. When teenagers get pregnant, or contract a sexually transmitted disease, or any other unhappy outcome, Tinseltown won't be there to help. These disasters never happen in La-La Land. It's the mess left to parents, and once-innocent children, to clean.