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Teen Sex

With that headline, you might think I’m trolling for search engine traffic, but I do have a point. Via the Volokh Conspiracy, I’ve learned of an article a month ago by Glenn Reynolds titled Teen Sex and Media Hype. While the thrust of the article is about teen sex, much of it is directly translatable to teen drug use.

Once, teen-agers weren’t a demographic: They were adults-in-training. They worked, did farm chores, watched children, and generally functioned in the real world. They got status and recognition for doing these things well, and they got shame and disapproval for doing them badly.

But since sometime in the mid-20th century, the role of teen-agers has been different, as a recent article by Thomas Hine in American Heritage magazine points out:

Young people became teen-agers because we had nothing better for them to do. High schools became custodial institutions for the young. We stopped expecting young people to be productive members of the society and began to think of them as gullible consumers. We defined maturity primarily in terms of being permitted adult vices, and then were surprised when teen-agers drank, smoked, or had promiscuous sex.” …

… Unfortunately, the most common response we see to reports of teen-age sex is to further infantilize teens. This serves the interests of nanny-state advocates who want to infantilize everyone, and of those who believe that coercion is the only path to virtue. When this approach fails, as it is sure to do, that will justify still more coercion. (Abstinence programs, the U.S. News story reports, make teens more anxious to retain “technical” virginity, but often via riskier practices like anal sex.)

I recommend a different approach: If we want teen-agers to be more adult, in their virtues as well as their vices, we should try treating them more like adults.

Treating them like adults. What a concept. It’s an interesting article, and I don’t know that I agree with everything Reynolds says, but the core principles seem sound. We even move the “targets” of “maturity” back (like moving the drinking age to 21) encouraging further rebellion. Would be an interesting debate topic.

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