In an interview discussing whether teen sleepovers can actually prevent teen pregnancy, CNN’s Ali Velshi says flatly, “This is a little bit counter-intuitive.” But as his interviewee, UMass sociologist Amy Schalet (who wrote on this subject in Contexts in “Sex, Love, and Autonomy in the Teenage Sleepover” in the Summer of 2010), explains, “Let me clarify: it’s not a situation where everything goes… It’s definitely older teenage couples who have established relationships and whose parents have talked about contraception.” Which is to say, as Velshi puts it, sex and sex education in countries like the Netherlands, in which parents are more permissive—or as Schalet says, “parents are more connected with their kids”—about allowing boyfriends and girlfriends to sleep over, take “a holistic approach.”
Schalet’s research, explored more deeply in her new University of Chicago book Not Under My Roof, takes a look at American parenting practices surrounding teen sex and the practices of parents in other countries. Using in-depth interviews with parents and teens and a host of other data, she finds:
The takeaway for American parents… isn’t necessarily “You must permit sleepovers.” Many parents are going to say, “Not under my roof!” That’s why it’s the title of my book. The takeaway is that you can have more open conversations—you should probably have more open conversations—about what’s a good relationship, sex and contraception should go together, what does it mean to be “ready,” how to get rid of some of these damaging stereotypes (gender stereotypes). Those are all things that are going to help promote teenage health and better relationships between parents and kids.
Schalet is clear that parental approaches are nowhere near the only factor in the stark differences in teen pregnancy rates between the U.S. and the Netherlands, but says they are, in fact, particularly important. “Kids are having sex, clearly,” Velshi says. And that’s precisely the point, no matter whether parents believe their kids should be able to have sex in their own homes, Schalet believes: “I think what you emphasize is that, above all, the conversation is important, and the conversation itself does not make kids have sex.” Ideally, she points out, that conversation will take place at home with parents, but a holistic talk about sexuality, relationships, and health can also take place in schools, with clergy, and in many other locations.