Monday, November 21, 2011

Those Scandinavians do it again

Living in Minnesota for five years while not being from there or Lutheran or Scandinavian or blue-eyed, I eventually grew a little huffy about the Scandi-worship.  If you want to see quiet, reserved Minnesotans get excited, start a conversation about progressive Scandinavian policies in contrast to the US of A.  But sometimes you've just got to hand it to them.  IKEA crap is cheap yet attractive, and their policies are just ... smarter.

Like this article from TIME magazine, "What We Can Learn From The Dutch About Teen Sex."  I wish I could go back in time and somehow secretly place a copy of this article in my parents' hands in 1994.  My whole adolescence could have been different.

The reporter interviews Amy Schalet, author of a new book, Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex.  Schalet suggests that if a society only associates teen sexuality with danger, then sex becomes decoupled from love.  American society doesn't believe teens are capable of love, and doesn't trust them to use judgement, but Dutch society does, according to Schalet.  We talk to teens about dating violence and abusive relationships, but not about what it feels like to be in love.

Schalet characterizes American views on teen sex and drugs as pessimistic and punitive -- we think that if drugs are legal everyone will run out and become a heroin addict, or if teen sex is destigmatized, teens will go crazy.

Here's a nice quote:
U.S. parents fear that sex is everywhere and they want to protect kids from it. I argue that you want to have a positive vision that you can lay out there, not a vision of keeping sex away from you. Because then, you have two options: either a very sensationalized unrealistic scoring type of mentality or no sex until marriage. Those are not two good alternatives.
She introduces a concept of individualism very different from America's obsession with lone cowboy sort of individualism.  She says one of the tasks of adolescence is to develop autonomy and self-knowledge, which will inform one's abilities for self-regulation and planning -- two attributes important in preparing for safe, meaningful sex and love.

On disparities, such as the dramatically lower rate of Dutch teen pregnancy compared to the U.S.:
I try to emphasize that sexual health problems are very much correlated with lack of resources and lack of good education and lack of access to health care. One of the reasons that the Netherlands has done so much better is that the poverty rate is a lot lower. The Dutch have scored highest on equity in access to health care, and they do lot better in providing social services. If we want to promote adolescent sex health, we need to provide society with level resources.
I love how she ties in so many things here: culture, parenting, public policies, public health, religion, love.  I was raised with so much shame and judgement about teen sexuality.  I've given this a lot of thought and, even though my parents were doing the best they could and excelled in every other area of parenting, it really ultimately created a lot more bad than good.  I want to do things differently when I have kids, but have few models of how and what.  Reading this article, I felt a glimmer of hope.  Maybe my generation can raise kids with less of an atmosphere of shame, and more discussions about healthy relationships and how to make good judgement calls.  

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