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Are (social) liberals better parents that (social) conservatives? - Elf M. Sternberg
Are (social) liberals better parents that (social) conservatives?
Margaret Talbot looks past the numbers on why teenage pregnancy is more common among self-identifying "conservative" families than "liberal ones," and concludes:
The "pro-family" efforts of social conservatives–the campaigns against gay marriage and abortion–do nothing to instill the emotional discipline or the psychological smarts that forsaking all others often involves. Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers. Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality–indeed, they may feel that it's unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle-class morality is squarely pro-family. Maybe these choices weren't originally about values–maybe they were about maximizing education and careers–yet the result is a more stable family system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents' economic circumstances. The new middle-class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it's pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity may be one reason that teen-agers from close families see child-rearing as a project for which they're not yet ready. For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn't true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.
The meta is that conservatives focus on sexual issues, which bring them to the forefront of teenager's thoughts, whereas liberals focus on personal issues, and give teenagers reasons to avoid sex-- and risky sex, should they have it-- that are immediate and attention-getting.

One thing that Talbot doesn't concentrate on, to the article's weakness, is the way liberal's don't have a "forgiveness" meme as powerful as the redemptive memes of conservatism, and the way liberals don't automatically and cultural value "unwanted" children, whereas the primitive, muscular conservatism of which Sarah Palin was postergirl views any child as an automatic blessing.

One thing that doesn't jibe at all, though, is that the majority of evangelicals don't believe sex will be pleasurable-- so why do they do it at all? Why do they have the earliest "sexual debuts," and the highest rates of sexual activity? In contrast, Jewish teenagers are the most likely to believe sex will be pleasureable-- and yet they have the lowest rates of teenage sexual activity and very late sexual debuts.

Article: Red Sex, Blue Sex

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From: codeamazon Date: December 16th, 2008 05:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
One thing that doesn't jibe at all, though, is that the majority of evangelicals don't believe sex will be pleasurable-- so why do they do it at all? Why do they have the earliest "sexual debuts," and the highest rates of sexual activity? In contrast, Jewish teenagers are the most likely to believe sex will be pleasureable-- and yet they have the lowest rates of teenage sexual activity and very late sexual debuts.

At least from the female perspective, having sex as a teen wasn't really about pleasure. It was an almost autonomic drive for closeness/comfort/attention. I suspect the drive for sex even without an assumption that it will be gratifying is at LEAST as strong in teen males. Further, if something is pretty much bad no matter what, then what difference does it make if it's the accepted dirt of marital sex or the unaccepted filth of pre-marital sex? You're still befouling yourself either way, eh?

At least as I'm raising my kids (within Judaism) I teach them that sex *is* pleasurable -- and holy, but that it takes maturity and the ability to communicate and cooperate for that to be the case, therefore waiting until you're an adult increases the odds that things will go well.

I've given my older pretty concrete guidelines to determine whether he has what it takes. "If you can't talk with your partner about disease and pregnancy protection, then you're not ready to have sex with that person." "When you can talk about what feels good without being TOO embarrassed, and you can talk about how even with the nicest people, condoms are important, THEN you're probably ready to talk about whether to have sex. There are condoms in the bathroom cabinet; there always will be; no I don't count them."
sirfox From: sirfox Date: December 16th, 2008 08:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Certainly just as strong for males, as far as urges go. Both genders have figured out masturbation by this point, and probably figure that sex with a partner must be at least as pleasurable.

Perhaps it's that Social/Religious conservatives are very Black and White with their view of the world. When sex is talked about, it's dirty and you're supposed to abstain like a Good Little Christian™ Until marriage, after which you can pop as many clowns out of the car as you want and be Doing Gods Work. What kids don't get in that environment are the shades of gray. Sex, love, and relationships are not things that thrive in an atmosphere full of emotional bullshit, and yet they are capable of throwing out the most perplexing shades of gray that anybody has ever encountered.

It's a very human thing to want a world where black and white, good and evil, heaven and hell are clearly delineated, but the world isn't exactly obliging in that respect. In such a world, those who do best will be those with the most experience in subtlety, in sorting out those gray areas and making a more informed decision. They'll also be able to articulate it better than a person reared thinking that every situation can be distilled down to a clear B&W decision. It also helps not to be relying solely on scripture that's a few millenia out of date for today's thorny and complex issues.

A big part of the evangelical mindset that i've encountered is, in fact, actively against even acknowledging anything but a black&white universe, and heaps scorn and derision on those horrible "moral relativists". These are the same folks who are rabidly anti-science and anti-intellectual. Having sex can have life-long and life-changing (and even life-ending) consequences. Thinking about this before the fact is essential, because Jesus might forgive you, but try explaining to a kid that they were an accident, and grew up a broken human being because they were raised by people not yet ready for that responsibility, and who then did a shitty, half-assed job of it.

elfs From: elfs Date: December 16th, 2008 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Along with the black & white argument is another, subtler argument: socially liberal parents tell their kids why they might want to have sex.

No, really. Books like It's perfectly normal and so on actually contain this thinking: if you're going to have sex, do it safely and know why you're doing it. Have a reason. Have some thought. I suspect that that conservatives, in not giving their kids an internalized conversation about why they might say 'yes', disempower their kids to articulate why they would say 'no.'
sirfox From: sirfox Date: December 16th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
Very much so, and not just with sex. (although it's one of the most striking examples)

A fundamentalist ideology really can't be having with critical thinking, and so provides "all the answers." Like any skill, critical thinking only improves with practice. (and other somebodies to practice with)

This can have the effect of stunting growth and progress, holding people back, not ever being better than the generation before...

Which is the whole point, i guess.
valarltd From: valarltd Date: December 16th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
You're assuming masturbation is pleasurable.

When you're raised in that sort of household, it really isn't. You do it because you're too weak to stop. You do it fast and hard and as painful as possible to punish yourself for your weakness.

Sex is going to be awful, so get the painful ripping and bleeding part over with. And keep the vial of chicken blood for the wedding night sheets.

It really messes a kid up. Fortunately, I figured out early I was going to hell for having a sex drive, so I decided to make the best of it.
shunra From: shunra Date: December 16th, 2008 08:24 pm (UTC) (Link)
It somehow reminds me of the difference between attitude toward already-born and unborn children. The liberal community seems to be more focused on rights, protections, and stewardship of the already-born. The evangelical community seems to be far more focused on the potentially-born.
urox From: urox Date: December 16th, 2008 08:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Judaism and Christianity are pretty different in how they're taught as far as I can see. First off, how many Jewish hypocrites do you know vs Christian hypocrites? Second, in becoming a Rabbi, the candidate must give a number of reasons both for *AND* against an interpretation of a reading. Critical thinking and interpretation! Not something I see in most teachings of Christianity (although this is done in youth bible study groups).
shunra From: shunra Date: December 16th, 2008 09:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's a matter of exposure. I have had a huge line-up of Jewish hypocrites in my life.

The tradition of argument is indeed a plus of Jewish culture. Is it not part of Christian tradition, as well, among the Jesuits? It is also part of Islamic tradition.

I have no idea how American Jewish families handle sexuality in their children, other than the anecdotal information about my cousins. But I grew up among Orthodox Jews and they enforced a strict no-touching rule: males and females were not allowed to touch, ever, until after they were married. No hand-holding, no hugging, no kissing, nothing.
As you might imagine, the Jewish Orthodox society is entirely organized around the prevention of this prohibited touching.

I prefer other forms of mental illness, myself, and have kept my children safe from the Jewish Orthodox variety.

xengar From: xengar Date: December 17th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Strict orthodoxy in general (including scientific) involves saying "this is true and that is false" and holding to that statement no mater what. It means closing yourself off from the possibility that you might be wrong, and thus breeds the urge to hide any evidence to the contrary. It is the orthodoxy (or the fundamentalism) that begets the hypocrisy, not the specific credo.
shunra From: shunra Date: December 17th, 2008 04:02 am (UTC) (Link)

That is not the way it worked in the culture I was brought up in. You could *think* anything you wanted, you could *argue* anything you wanted, but you had to ACT according to the rules, and the rules covered the minutest details of daily life, from the way you tied your shoes to the order in which you ate the food in each meal and the specific words murmured before, after, and during each action.

In Jewish Orthodox life as practiced in Israel in the 70s (and onward, apparently. I jumped ship in the mid 80s), it was customary to find more and more rules to follow (humra d'humra) and to ask rabbis questions that would have them rule on any item still in question, etc. It makes OCD look like child's play when you have have to count hours since the last time you consumed food A before eating food B, when purchasing decisions of clothing include checking in with the rabbi about permitted drape, and whether having a nylon label in cotton clothing counts as mixed fabric, which is unkosher.

Not all Jews practice it like this. The Orthodox in Israel do, though, and the ultra-orthodox do so even more.
ideaphile From: ideaphile Date: December 17th, 2008 02:28 am (UTC) (Link)


I don't know which set of doctrines is better for a kid to reject...

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en_ki From: en_ki Date: December 17th, 2008 03:21 am (UTC) (Link)
You're implying a false symmetry here. People may differ on policy objectives, about which reasonable people can disagree; but there are also matters of fact on which standard conservative beliefs (e.g., God created the universe, there's no such thing as evolution, condoms aren't effective at preventing pregnancy and STDs, amartial sex makes you go to hell) are just plain false.

Sure, almost all kids rebel against their parents as a normal part of development—but as a liberally-raised kid, I rebelled against my parents' authority far more than against their beliefs, and the conservatively-raised people I've met have generally had a very different experience.

I credit this to the fact that the beliefs were presented to me, not as things I must believe, but as things they believed and had good reasons for that they were willing to explain; and as their reasons were supported by my real-world experiences, the beliefs were reinforced rather than undermined:

"Don't be racist. Is that how you would want to be treated?"

"Take care when you have sex. Most people do have sex, it's perfectly normal, but there are risks involved [this being a Unitarian household, this was a year-long class at church around age 10] and here is how to mitigate them."

Contrast this with


which any reasonable person will start to have doubts about, oh, around their first kiss.

Conservatives breed faster; liberals are more convincing. Thus is ideological equilibrium maintained.
elfs From: elfs Date: December 17th, 2008 09:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Hmmm

As a parent now, I've had the privilege of watching quite a number of kids navigate that transition between pre-adolescence and now post-college adulthood. Rejection and rebellion are overblown myths parents tell one another to prepare for "the worst that could happen." In real life, it's far less common than the popular press would have us believe.
doodlesthegreat From: doodlesthegreat Date: December 17th, 2008 05:28 am (UTC) (Link)
One thing that doesn't jibe at all, though, is that the majority of evangelicals don't believe sex will be pleasurable-- so why do they do it at all? Why do they have the earliest "sexual debuts," and the highest rates of sexual activity? In contrast, Jewish teenagers are the most likely to believe sex will be pleasureable-- and yet they have the lowest rates of teenage sexual activity and very late sexual debuts.

It's like the War on Drugs. Kids get taught that "drugs are bad, mmmmmkay?", and when the logic is shattered (as it always will be), they go whole hog into finding out just how far the BS goes.

So the same bunch gets told sex is dirty, perverse, and nasty (which means you're doing it right =};-3 ) and seconds after they achieve their first orgasm... MOR PLZ! They know it's a lie, and pay lip service to it.
hydrolagus From: hydrolagus Date: December 17th, 2008 06:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alternately, if they get the "only bad people do drugs/have non-babymaking sex" message, then once they've done it once they've become one of the bad people so doing more won't change anything.
tagryn From: tagryn Date: December 20th, 2008 01:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think until you actually sit down and talk to someone who holds that perspective (in this case, an evangelical parent), this can't be a valid meta discussion. Way too much potential for strawmen and making assumptions about what the actual rationales are.

(and no, former evangelicals or folks who were raised as evangelicals but don't follow it anymore aren't an adequate substitute. In my experience, some of the worst distortions and misunderstandings I've heard of Catholicism have come from ex-Catholics, same for ex-Mormons on Mormonism, ex-Muslims on Islam, etc.; a lot of the time, the bitterness gets in the way of everything else.)
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