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Teen pregnancy low in ‘sleepover’ country of the Netherlands
American parents say, ‘No way’
Dutch youths know they can ask permission to have their partners spend the night in their bedrooms, and most parents will say yes, said Ms. Schalet, adding that this kind of “vigilant leniency” allows teens to explore adult behaviors within distinct parameters.
American parents, however, tend to worry about “raging hormones” that, left uncontrolled, will wreak havoc in a young person’s life, she said. Teen sleepovers in the U.S. family home are virtually taboo, even though this leads to teens sneaking around to have sex, “getting caught” and causing conflict in the parent-child relationship.
Ms. Schalet’s book, which offers recommendations about a new “framework for adolescent sexuality” for America, arrives at a good time, said Debra Hauser, executive vice president of Advocates for Youth, which often has brought together U.S. and European sex educators to exchange ideas.
“Europeans look at sexuality as a normal, healthy part of being human … [while] we, unfortunately, view sexuality as sort of an oppositional force that has to be fought or grappled with, and has to be overcome,” Ms. Hauser said.
Statistics tell the tale, she said: An Advocates for Youth report, updated in March, shows that the Netherlands has far fewer teen pregnancies, births and abortions than the U.S., and sexually active Dutch teens are far more likely than American teens to use condoms or oral contraceptives.
Ms. Schalet’s book “gives us all, and parents in particular, food for thought” about how to support young people so they can have “happy and fulfilling adult lives, romantically and sexually,” said Monica Rodriguez, president and chief executive of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
Parents have a lot of influence over their children, and if conversations about sex were a normal, natural part of day-to-day life, when it’s appropriate and when it’s needed, “I think that would have a tremendous impact,” she added.
Other observers do not see European-style sex education - or parent-approved teen sleepovers - flourishing in the U.S.
The mantra is that “if only” the U.S. would adopt Europe’s sex-education model, “all of our problems would be solved. But the model really falls flat,” said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.
European parents are not really that permissive, said Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector, who also has visited Europe to talk about sex-education models.
What is significantly different in Europe is a strong cultural message against teen pregnancy, he said. Many U.S. teens are ambivalent about having a baby, while in most European nations, the attitude toward teen pregnancy is “absolutely not.”
As for the parent-approved sleepover? “It’s more of a myth, like ‘The Blue Lagoon’ for lefties,” said Mr. Rector. “They really pitch this ideal of a romantic, deeply committed, serious, sexual relationship between 16-year-olds, and how that’s what’s going on” in Europe, he said. But the European parents with whom we talked said, “No, we don’t actually do that.”
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About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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