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Not My Kid

What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers

Sinikka Elliott

Publication Year: 2012

Teenagers have sex. While almost all parents understand that many teenagers are sexually active, there is a paradox in many parents' thinking: they insist their own teen children are not sexual, but characterize their children's peers as sexually-driven and hypersexual. Rather than accuse parents of being in denial, Sinikka Elliott teases out the complex dynamics behind this thinking, demonstrating that it is rooted in fears and anxieties about being a good parent, the risks of teen sexual activity, and teenagers' future economic and social status. Parents—like most Americans—equate teen sexuality with heartache, disease, pregnancy, promiscuity, and deviance and want their teen children to be protected from these things.

Going beyond the hype and controversy, Elliott examines how a diverse group of American parents of teenagers understand teen sexuality, showing that, in contrast to the idea that parents are polarized in their beliefs, parents are confused, anxious, and ambivalent about teen sexual activity and how best to guide their own children's sexuality.  Framed with an eye to the debates about teenage abstinence and sex education in school, Elliott also links parents' understandings to the contradictory messages and broad moral panic around child and teen sexuality. Ultimately, Elliott considers the social and cultural conditions that might make it easier for parents to talk with their teens about sex, calling for new ways of thinking and talking about teen sexuality that promote social justice and empower parents to embrace their children as fully sexual subjects.

Published by: NYU Press


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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

I am profoundly grateful to the parents in this book who shared their rich stories with me; many also opened their homes to me, introduced me to their children, and encouraged me to write about their lives. I am also indebted to the public school sex educators who allowed me into their classrooms to observe their lessons and helped me reach out to their students’ parents. ...

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pp. 1-7

When Rose described her 14-year-old son, who is just going through the physical changes of puberty, her face lit up. He is “very intelligent,” “very responsible,” and “loves outdoor activities.” She thinks her son revels in the pubertal changes: he proudly shows off his armpit hair and is anxiously awaiting his “happy trail” (a slender path of pubic hair running from the belly button to the ...

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1. Sex Panics: Debates over Sex Education and the Construction of Teen Sexuality

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pp. 9-19

In the summer and fall of 2004, like many states around the nation, Texas was mired in a debate over sex education. One side thought that youth should learn about contraception in public schools (typically called comprehensive sex education), whereas the opposite side felt that schools should teach youth to abstain from sex until marriage and should not provide ...

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2. The Asexual Teen: Naïveté, Dependence, and Sexual Danger

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pp. 20-46

Rosalia’s days are long. As the sole family provider, Rosalia—a mother of five—works 6 days a week, 12 or more hours a day, at a dry cleaning chain. When I asked about her long hours, she responded: “It’s supposed to be from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. but more than likely it’s until 7 p.m.” She has a daily quota at work: “They tell me, to get paid that day I have to do this much, so ...

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3. Negotiating the Erotic: When Parents and Teens Talk about Sex

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pp. 47-62

When Gina—an affluent mother of three children—introduced me to her 19-year-old son Matthew, who had recently finished his first year of college, Matthew asked me to start my tape recorder. He wanted it on the record that “parents should never, ever talk to their kids about sex.” As an example, he told me about his friend who “jumped out of the car when his mom popped ...

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4. The Hypersexual Teen: Sexy Bodies, Raging Hormones, and Irresponsibility

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pp. 63-82

As I have tried to demonstrate in the preceding chapters, parents do not view their own teen children as sexually agentic, desiring subjects but instead see them as young, naïve, and not interested in talking about sex. Parents think this way partly because they believe teen sexual activity is highly dangerous, linked to deviance and lack of proper adult guidance. But parents also stated ...

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5. Other Teens: How Race, Class, and Gender Matter

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pp. 83-98

Parents do not simply view adults—whether strangers, known sex offenders, neighbors, or family members—as potential threats to their teenagers’ sexual safety and well-being, but they also worry about their children’s peers. Some parents, for example, described their children’s peers as “openly sexual” and “promiscuous.” Others spoke contemptuously about teens these days who ...

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6. Anxious Monitoring: Strategies of Protection and Surveillance

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pp. 99-117

A petite, divorced mother of four, Melissa views teen sexual activity and other aspects of adolescence as “life and death” issues. She tells her children: “‘I trust you, but if you slip off in the sense that you say you’re somewhere where you’re not then you will be checked on every two hours. So, I’ll trust you and then we’ll see.’” Melissa carefully monitors her children’s activities ...

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7. Uncertainty in Parents’ Sexual Lessons

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pp. 118-143

I met Corina, who had been a teen mother, on a sunny fall day at the nonprofit center where she works using her own experiences with teen motherhood to help teen mothers in her care. She has also worked tirelessly over the years to ensure that her three daughters “[don’t] have to go through what I went through.” Her first daughter was born when Corina was 15, and, as she ...

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8. Conclusion: Reconstructing Teen Sexuality

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pp. 144-155

In the debates over sex education, both sides often use parents to support their position, even though neither side seriously considers their attitudes, beliefs, and strategies to intervene in their teens’ sexual lives. The parents I interviewed do not believe that their own teenagers are sexually desiring subjects, whereas they described other teens as highly sexually motivated. ...

Methods Appendix

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pp. 157-163


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pp. 165-182


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pp. 183-201


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pp. 203-214

About the Author

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p. 216

E-ISBN-13: 9780814771693
E-ISBN-10: 081472258X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814722589
Print-ISBN-10: 081472258X

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 810533789
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Not My Kid

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Teenagers -- Sexual ethics.
  • Teenagers -- Sexual behavior.
  • Parent and child.
  • Parenting.
  • Sex instruction for teenagers.
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