Mr. Krumm makes a good point about the parents in all this. I remember when I was in school I was quite frankly amazed at the lattitude a lot of my classmates had. Of course, my best friend Clint was amazed at the lattitude I had. In fact, I had more than did most of my friends, but far less than the average person my age (or so it seemed). It often seems that many of the same parents that dutifully speak and vote as though they are concerned with cultural sexual decadence often become complicit in enabling that sort of behavior.
On the other hand, as Chris Ware points out in the comment section, the fact that kids like to have sex is not news and not a product of poor parenting as much as it is biology. Giving kids the freedom to (covertly or overtly) experiment sexually, however, certainly does fall on the parents.
How much parents should hold their kids back sexually is a value judgment, though. A tough one, in my view. On the whole, we can only contain biology so much. Holding sex until after marriage was a considerably more realistic option for more people when you could expect to get married between 18-25. Mormons are able to pull it off in higher numbers in part because their sons are often off to their missions at 19 and then come back at 21 ready to settle down with the 18-19 year old young ladies getting out of high school. It’s as good a set-up as I can imagine provided that you want your kids to marry young.
Historically speaking, the fifteen and sixteen year olds that are having sex now aren’t remarkably young to be having sex. It just seems to me that we’ve pushed growing up so far back that (a) it seems to be unconscionably young because marriage is presumably so far off and (b) they are likely less emotionally and mentally equipped to handle what they may be ready for physically. Both tie together in my mind, though, because they are often less equipped to deal with sex because marriage seems to be so far off because we’ve moved the milestones so far out that they have not been charged with the responsibilities that are required for one to grow.
A lot of the vapidity we can see in youth today can be traced to, as much as anything else, boredom. Middle class kids with educated parents are generally smart enough that school requires less than three hours of brainpower a day. And most of school is (or seems to be at the time, for sure) just jumping through arbitrary hoops anyhow. Extracurricular activities also usually seem to revolve around socialization or around flexing physical or mental muscles for the arbitrary end of winning the game. We’ve recast recreational activities as responsibilities (often superceding the relatively minor academic responsibilities that do exist).
To put it in Reality TV terms, it’s the difference between Big Brother and Survivor. Survivor has its arbitrary rules and whatnot, but a lot of energy there is expended towards surviving and trying to get as comfortable as possible. Alliances are partially found and kept on ability and work ethic in addition to who likes whom. Big Brother, on the other hand, already starts out with the characters being reasonably comfortable and so twice the energy is devoted towards socialization. Who likes whom moves from being a factor to being the ultimate factor.
Due to a lot of factors, including what I believe is a failure to thoroughly challenge young people, kids spend more time thinking about what other kids think than they do anything else. The frivolous pursuit of social status that the parents must balance with financial, employment, and childrearing responsibilities exists in the lives of the younger ones without any appropriate counterbalance. It mostly serves to fill the vacuum left by not having to work on the farm, not having to learn a trade, and not having to devote a day’s work into making decent (if not great) grades.
And because of this vacuum, physical desires that may ordinarily be put off, suppressed, and ignored begin to flower at a time inconducive for it to. The ultimate problem, in my view, with teenage sex is that the kids are ill-equipped to deal with it emotionally and they are absolutely ill-equipped to deal with the consequences of it — pregnancy. With birth control, however, we’ve given the illusion that they will not have to deal with it because we have made it to where they most likely won’t. With this, we’ve taken what little external responsibility that comes with having sex out of their hands. Or at least we’ve given them that illusion. The dirty little secret about birth control is that it has probably caused more unwanted pregnancies than it has prevented in the same way that rugby is safer than football because it lacks the protective gear.
Let me state unequivocally that I am a fan of the existence of birth control and I’m not very much interested in a discussion over the morality of birth control or abortion in this forum. But I do think that the results have been more mixed than we often consider. The cat has been let out of the bag, though, and I don’t believe it can be shoved back in.
Regardless, though, it is another example where we’ve taken responsibility and power away from our young in favor of prolonging youth. It seems that much of the last half of the last century was spent carving out a holding tank for young people. The intent was to take responsibilities out of the way so that they could form in our formative years. What I believe we’ve missed is that by postponing real responsibility past the adolescent years, many of the attitudes are not being formed in a time of entitlement when many of their actions (or inactions) have no real consequences and reality is so warped around that reality, making them ill-equipped at age 14 (or sometimes even 24) to accept responsibilities when they unavoidably intrude.