One of the great misdirections of our age is the notion that sexual sophistication equals maturity. And regarding the details of sexual expression many of our children are singularly sophisticated, deftly parsing the subtle differences between hooking up, fooling around and friends with benefits.
It is a sad sophistication. Just as they never knew a world without wonderful high-tech appliances, our children never knew a world without high-risk sex, dangerous blood and the dangers associated with chlamydia, pelvic inflammatory disease, HPV and HIV/AIDS. In fairness, at this stage of the game most kids are considerably more careful than their parents at the same age. Those who aren’t may pay a heavy price.
It’s worth noting that among kids who engage in early sexual activity are quite a few who, like those who took up smoking during and after the disclosure of the tobacco companies’ criminal activities, are pressing an agenda that has little to do with clear thinking and just about everything to do with wishing to be taken seriously. They’re not wrong to want that.
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Mike Yaconelli was fond of saying that crap detection is the spiritual gift of adolescents.*
Most kids believe almost nothing they hear and only half of what they see. This is probably a good thing because I don’t think we can fully protect children from what Al Franken called lies and the lying liars who tell them.
For better or worse—or both—most kids learn what it takes to survive crazy families and social systems. Namely: Don’t Talk, Don’t Trust, Don’t Feel. The better part of learning that is what keeps kids from harming themselves irreparably; the worse part is that they’re lead to believe not talking, trusting and feeling is normal in human relationships (which may predispose them to repeat the same madness when it’s their turn—or surrender hope and opt out of committed relationships). So I’m not saying this is a healthy adaptation; only that it is a way of coping.Kids are far from foolproof but many of them grow up wary—even skeptical. Just because someone in authority says something doesn’t make them believe it. Deliver the information; they’ll decide for themselves and get back to you…or not. On balance, kids outperform their parents and far surpass their grandparents at crap detection. On this score I tend not to worry too much about them.
There are some among my peers who say we have to worry about kids because we have to take back the culture(!). I can’t criticize the zeal that drives that sentiment. It’s just that we never had the culture to begin with (we—whoever we are—may have preferred the flavor of the cultural soup earlier; but it was never our soup). In my own childhood there was never a time when I couldn’t find books and magazines to satisfy my interest in lust or bomb-making or anything else. I’m as irritated as anyone about the sex sites pushed at me via email. At this moment in life I have no appetite to click through to those sites. But wasn’t this always the question? Do you wanna look at dirty pictures? Do you wanna know how to make a bomb? If I did, I could; same as today. The internet just means I don’t have to leave the house for that access—just one more delivery platform for bad as well as good content.
I do have one modest proposal. I’ve lived in the middle of the country where Prime Time television begins at 7:00 p.m. Millions of children are wide awake and watching when the more mature programming begins at 8:00 Central and Mountain. I think that schedule gives children just a tad too much access to material that strikes me as inappropriate for younger viewers. The same shows are delayed on the West Coast to ensure the largest possible audience for commercial sponsors so...maybe I’m missing something, but aren’t we wasting perfectly good commercial air time in the midwest and mountain states? I mean, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Denver, Phoenix? These are not small markets. Yes, I know time-shifted viewing changes this for adults—but it’s children, still wide awake at 7:30 pm, we’re talking about, right? Am I the only one who thinks this is a missed opportunity for advertisers?
— from Raising Adults
* There’s a story about a reporter asking Hemingway what it takes to be a good writer. “Every man should have a built-in automatic crap detector,” he replied. “It also should have a manual drill and crank handle in case the machine breaks down” (Hemingway in Cuba, The Atlantic Monthly, August 1965). I don’t know if Yaconelli knew the Hemingway story. It doesn’t matter—I think they were both right.