Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norway. The growing diversity of northern Europe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I’ve been trying to get a handle on the machinations of teenage relationships for a while now.
Normally I embrace ‘change’ and progress, but the more I understand of the modern day ‘boy meets girl’ scenario, the more I worry for our kids.
Without wanting to sound generically middle-aged, it wasn’t like that in our day.
Who remembers their ‘first love?’ I’m reminded about mine on a daily basis as I ended up marrying him. For the lucky ones among us, that first experience of romantic love was a wondrous experience, our first emotional dip of the toe into the complicated ocean of adult relationships.
Teenage relationships have always been complex things.
In the old days, the teenage dating process was a much more compartmentalised process. Boy asked out girl, (or girl orchestrated for boy to ask her out, if boy proved a bit reticent), to be followed by a first date of sorts, which, (all being well) culminated in a coupling; leading to the prized ‘going out’ status (the same status change in a relationship, these days, is achieved by changing your Facebook status). That hatching of a new relationship was a fairly straightforward process in the old days.
They were precious, those first months, filled with wonder, physical yearning and exploration. We knew about and explored the American system of ‘bases’, the accepted physical step-by-step process of moving from a platonic to a sexual relationship, but this was tempered by an ingrained set of values towards the opposite sex, and our own self-respect.
Of course, the path to true love never runs completely smoothly but for teenagers today, it is even more hazardous.
For the dating parameters for teenagers today are very different. Although some changes can be explained through evolution and are more difficult to control, others, I believe, are symptomatic of media influence. But some of those changes, in the way that teenagers approach and manage their relationships today, have also served to highlight a serious, underlying concern, in the re-emergence of gender inequality.
Today’s teenagers rarely feel the need to commit fully to monogamous relationships; they don’t ‘go out’ together, like we did. They ‘hook up’.
‘Hooking up’ can be defined as anything from pashing to going ‘all the way’. It’s a kind of ‘friends with benefits’, ‘no strings attached’ arrangement, played out by kids whose emotional areas of the brain are far from fully matured.
‘The hook up culture casts men in the role of sexual beast and women as victims’ and a lot of young girls are voicing concern about a new regressive attitude lurking in the minds of teenage boys; while boys question how they can respect young girls who promote semi-pornographic ‘selfies’ of themselves as sex objects on Facebook.
I wonder if this gender devaluation is in part due to the fact that many teenagers now develop their life opinions based on what they witness on the tv or via social networking. Reality television being an obvious culprit.
Open relationships, partner swapping and adherence to the friendship group over the individual is nothing new. Think of the power of ‘Friends’ in the nineties and the sexual confidence that emanated from those characters, behaviours further cultivated by the personalities in modern series such as ‘Gossip Girl’, ‘The Kardashians and Big Brother, for example.
What worries me more is that our sons and daughters are given dumbed-down, over-emotional celebrities as their female role models. The ridiculous antics of the beauties in Beauty and the Geek, the girls of the Playboy Mansion or Brynne Edelston, albeit entertaining as comedic value, are to be laughed at, not with. Whether the immature brain of a seventeen year old can decipher the difference between what is real and what is manufactured, is another question.
And what about the relationship model itself and how it is translated to teenagers. Think of the celebrity divorces that they have been exposed to, this year alone. The increase in the divorce rate, both domestically and in Hollywood, has to affect our teenagers’ attitudes towards long-term relationships. Is their approach to the sanctity of marriage as committed now, with what appears to be a greater focus on the event than the depth of responsibility that goes with the commitment ?
And then there is the heightened exposure that our kids have towards sex and the way that they now communicate their sexual emotions. Does a greater exposure to sex increase the interest level and hence lower the age at which they start to indulge in sexual relationships? There’s no doubt that parents had more control over what their teenagers were exposed to in the past; less mothers worked and teenagers had less freedom. These days, many kids are learning the facts of life through on-line porn, Facebook and juvenile experimentation, and are actively participating in ‘sexting’ as a form of foreplay.
If the media does insist on stereotyping gender roles, if we don’t instil in our children an understanding of equality, there is a very real danger that we are going to step back into a ’50s type era, as feared by Elaine Goldsmith in her article about Governor Romney, Is The Clock Turning Back For Women’s Rights, where men regain power and repeal women’s choices?
There was uproar recently with Julia Gillard’s branding of Tony Abbott as a misogynist, (a harsh label maybe), but maybe a revision of the meaning of ‘misogyny’ is appropriate after all, because ‘an entrenched prejudice against women’ does appear to be simmering beneath the surface in terms of teenage relationships, endangering the fragile foundations of equality that women before us fought so hard to achieve. Maybe it’s time to look at the fundamental moral codes of our youth and the influence of the media in their decisions.