Kids Today

When they should be watching She-Ra, they're having sex.


The never-ending campaign to Save Our Children continues. Today's news brings two warning cries, one familiar, the other a bit more surprising.

First, there's a titillating new study out about the sexual habits of kids aged 14 and younger. Apparently, one in five teens under the age of 15 has not only has sex, but gets busy without a parent present. Along with that comes the salacious news that "sexually experienced teens were more likely than virgins to engage in other risky behaviors, such as smoking, illegal drugs, and drinking once a week or more." In other words, kids who have sex really do have more fun.

I'm not a parent and I admit that becoming one might make me less flippant about the mating habits of the training-bra set. And I personally don't think sex at 14 is a good idea, whether or not it results in pregnancy or ends with a post-coital toke. But how helpful are these incendiary studies? This one suggests that teens are particularly randy in the unsupervised after school hours, when parents think they're working algebra problems. It says to parents: "You may think you know her, but that daughter of yours is up to no good." Will creating legions of newly paranoid and distrustful parents curb teen sex—or just promote more Villi Fualaau-style adventurism? Inducing paranoia does produce results in one area: Creating larger budgets for sex education. But it's unclear whether those have any effect on behavior either.

Moving on, another study released today inadvertently suggests a possible answer to the question of why so many young teens are getting it on: They're not watching enough TV! Now here's a new one. We're well acquainted with (and perhaps even moved by) perennial complaints that children are too hooked to the boob tube. But now an Oakland-based group called Children Now is arguing that there's not enough broadcast children's programming. Because juvenile entertainment is not as profitable as adult fare, networks have been ratcheting back the hours once devoted to cartoons and programs such as Bill Nye the Science Guy. Media mergers, Children Now submits, will accelerate the decline, and things are bound to get worse if the FCC votes June 2 to relax some regulations. (For an excellent treatment of that subject, read Jesse Walker's blog post.)

Of all the objections raised with regard to media consolidation, this one seems blatantly disingenuous, a naked attempt to sway a big-league debate with a plea for the Children.

Kids today have it made! My mother really did tell me that when she was growing up, she had to walk four miles a day to school in snow. When I have kids, my sob story is going to be that we didn't have Cable television or a set larger than 17 inches. I had no Nickelodeon, no Cartoon Network, and no MTV. Life was really rough when I was sick; pretty much everything I knew about sexuality at age 8 came from watching Hot Lips Hoolihan and Frank Burns make out on M*A*S*H. Now there's a way to deter a young girl from sex.