On several occasions in recent years, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has found that twice as many adults as teens answered "yes" to this question: "Do you think it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins?" I now have a whole email folder filled with tales of this generational disconnect. A 19-year-old wrote to me after her mother pressured her to go to bars during the workweek. When mom packed her off with 12 condoms on a trip to India, the girl wondered: "Am I really going to have so much sex in the Third World?" I heard from a 16-year-old whose parents think she is "Victorian" because "excuse me if sex is not my favorite dinner topic."
And then there's my favorite email, received in October: "When I was about 12," reports a 23-year-old woman, "my baby boomer mother came up to me one day after school, and appraising my typical baggy t-shirt and jeans said, 'you really ought to start wearing smaller shirts. That's what the boys want.' I of course just blushed and mumbled something like 'OK, mom.' Now that I'm older I realize that instead of just being embarrassed, I could have said, 'what about what I want?' "
Dr. Phil had originally invited Wendy to come on his show and talk about her book. Ultimately, he stood her up, with a lame excuse. But Dr. Phil's recasting of the program actually proves Wendy's major point: the young are not necessarily demanding recreational sex. Their parents are foisting it on them, talking them into it, enabling it, all for reasons of their own. Here is Wendy's account of Dr. Phil's show.
Recently, the episode "Mild vs. Wild" finally aired. As it turned out, all the teenage role models that I had recommended were nowhere to be seen. The show was instead presented as a war between "wild" young'uns who wanted to look provocative and their "out of touch" parents.
I lost count of the number of times that the children portrayed their parents as clueless, frumpy or "just old." It's "just two different generations," the viewer was told again and again. One young woman suggested that her elders were "jealous" because their wrinkly bodies were no longer attractive. Finally, stepping into this catfight of his own making, Dr. Phil mused that the kids feel that the grown-ups "need to get with the times." He compared Megan, one 11-year-old girl who favored microminis, to his own college-age son, who sports a mohawk--and even instructed Megan's parents to "lighten up" and give "her more leeway" since "she is a straight-A student."
But by omitting all the younger, more wholesome role models from his show, Dr. Phil unwittingly revealed how much distortion is required to prop up this media-stoked controversy. The dichotomy between prudish elders and wild young'uns turns out to be, on closer examination, largely adult dogma. Yes, many young people are rebelling--but today they rebel, increasingly, by upholding high standards in the face of the low ones promoted around them.