Recently, The Telegraph posted the following article with the alarming headline: “Boys and girls ‘can’t be friends without sexual innuendo’ study says.”
It’s a story that’s sure to intrigue those of us who are already concerned about how much sexual imagery and media kids have access to, but I do think it’s important to read articles, like this one, with a bit of skepticism and curiosity. Journalists have to pay their bills just like the rest of us, and attracting audience attention in Internetland is tough! I’m out here hustling myself, so I’m not trying to hate on a fellow writer for needing page views. I just know that appealing to readers' emotions is a really good way to draw people to your story. When it comes to youth and sex, people tend to worry, and when research emerges on the subject, the media tends to hone in on what is worrisome. But in my experience, there’s often more to the story.
As I’ve mentioned before, I like to do a little detective work when it comes to these sort of articles. At the very least, I try to read the actual studies—partly because I’m a big ol’ sex nerd, but also because when it comes to sexuality and youth, the research results tell a bigger story than what we read about in the article. This particular study, “Boys and Girls Speak Out,” is an easy and fascinating read. The researcher, Emma Renold, wanted to learn about the effects of sexual culture on kids, by talking to actual kids! Adults have lots of concerns about the effect of social and sexualized media on our children, but what do children think?
The Telegraph is right that many of the kids interviewed felt pressure of “boyfriend-girlfriend” culture, there’s also some encouraging stuff the article doesn’t mention. Renold’s study also found that the children interviewed are pretty critical of sexually explicit media, not on board with gender and sexual stereotypes, and distinguish between “looking older” and “looking sexy.” And while I think adults are right to be wary of how exposure to sexual material and ideas—particular in mainstream media—affect our children, it also helps to be reminded that they can be pretty smart, socially aware people.
I think one of the best ways we can help our kids grow and develop into sexually healthy people is to ask questions and find out what they know, what they think, and what they want. I’m glad to see good research getting media attention, but as this study shows, when it comes to sexuality, youth have their own story to tell.
Need more info on helping your kids develop into sexually healthy individuals? Check out: "The Sex Talk Every Parent Needs To Hear" and "Talking To Kids About Sex—There's An App For That."