Not my kid : parents, teenagers, and adolescent sexuality

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2008-05

Authors

Elliott, Sinikka

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Abstract

Over the past two decades, communities across the nation have been mired in battles over sexuality, including gay rights, censorship, and sex education. Based on indepth interview data with 47 racially and economically diverse parents of teenagers, this study explores how parents make sense of and try to guide their children's sexuality in the midst of these hotly contested and politically charged debates. The findings highlight a paradox in parents' understandings of their children's sexuality: the parents interviewed for this study do not think of their own children as sexual subjects, even as they construct adolescents, in general, as highly sexual and sexualized. The author explores this paradox throughout the dissertation. She argues that parents' understandings reflect the complex interplay of myriad forces: these include the culture of sexual fear in the U.S.; dominant understandings of adolescence; gender, race, class, and sexual inequalities; and a pervasive American individualist ethos that situates the blame for any negative outcomes of teen sexuality on parents and their children. At the same time, however, these constructions often bolster social inequality. As the author shows, parents' understandings of adolescent sexuality, and their lessons to their children about sexuality, are not only shaped by, but also serve to legitimize, hierarchies and inequalities based on race, class, gender, sexuality, and age. The final chapter discusses the specific social and cultural conditions that might enable parents to think of their children as sexual subjects.

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