Is The Media Killing Teenage Relationships?

Teenagers of various backgrounds in Oslo, Norw...
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.

8 thoughts on “Is The Media Killing Teenage Relationships?

  1. No you are far from generically middle-aged as you put it.
    You have a thought provoking & enlightening post here.
    Things were so different (back in our day)
    As you have mentioned the start of a relationship was the slow way… tell your girlfriend to tell her boyfriend that you like his friend..etc.
    Taking the time (probably not post hormonal changes) was how it was played out.
    There is too much too soon for the Gen Y unfortunately…and it can only lead to heartache or trouble.
    I guess because my girls are in their 20’s I haven’t really minded what was broadcast on the media, FB, TV but I do know that if I watched something that was in the least bit embarrassing on the TV with my parents in the room..I would cringe.
    Today it’s all out there and it’s sad for it to be so.
    My daughter (25) has been seeing someone for over a year…technically no not B/F & G/F but they are ‘seeing’ each other well FFS of course you are seeing each other!
    Thanks for the post.
    I hope what I have replied makes some sort of sense.
    🙂

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  2. very good piece of writing – thought provoking and depressing at the same time – I agree – just think back to the TV we watched as teenagers – Benny Hill was about as saucy as it got!

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  3. I think the reality possibly differs depending upon location. As a Brit living in Canada (for ten years) and watching my kids grow up here, I am very relieved that we are here rather than in Britain, where the pressures on kids to ‘belong’ to a certain group or style is enormous. That pressure has not been our experience in Canada.

    Here in our mid-sized town (three High Schools) I have thankfully perceived very little pressure on our three teenagers (count ’em!) in regards to sexual activity. Our eldest two (both boys) have both been in relationships with the same person for some time; both relationships are stable and apparently healthy. Our youngest daughter is now fourteen and is yet to begin any sort of relationship. She will take that step when she feels ready.

    This is not to say that I disagree with some of your observations; I am horrified in particular by the ‘adultifying’ of children – sometimes at a terrifyingly early age (“Toddlers in Tiaras’ anyone?) – but also at the teenage level. Without doubt, the internet and other social media is not always a healthy resource, but ‘good’ old-fashioned TV still plays a large role in the stereotyping of roles within society. I wonder how many people actually watch the commercials these days – ‘watch’ as in pay attention to the target audience (ALL cleaning and other houshold products are sold to women on TV) and the images and language being used? The prejudices and stereotypes are there for all to see.

    As a grumpy middle aged male, I attribute some of the modern teenage issues to what seems to be a vogue for parents to try to become their child’s ‘best friend’.
    I understand the intention but disagree with its implementation: in my opinion parents are NOT their children’s best friends. We are instead; loving protectors, guides, mentors, advisors, counselors and confidants. We are the ultimate safety net.

    I believe we are the ones who often have to make the tough decisions, to teach self discipline as well as ethics and moral values, and protecting a ‘best friend forever’ status is not a good place from which to be attempting that with any degree of objectivity. It’s not the root of all evil of course, but I think ‘BFF’ is a dangerous road to go down as a parent.

    I love my kids beyond words, and I know that they know that – I tell them as often as I can without them getting tired of hearing it. We can be loving towards our kids without trying to become like them – in fact I’d be surprised if many kids wanted their parents to do that. My goal is to see them grow into happy young adults – and for that to happen I need to be their parent, not their peer.

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    1. I agree with you every step of the way and I hope that I am the role model that you obviously are to your kids.I do agree with not trying to become your child’s ‘best friend’ as it then becomes unfeasible to discipline and like you say, they actually want that safety net of lines drawn. It sounds as though where you are and what you are doing in raising your children is a more traditional approach and I endeavour to do the same, however, not all children are the same – have the same sensitivities or find their place in their high school microcosm which makes acceptance particularly hard. So we find ourselves having to try other approaches and moving our own goal posts and trying something new. I do, however, think that the media and celebrity role models that our kids look up to, do have a responsibility.

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      1. Hi again MMM;

        Absolutely – the celebrity so-called ‘role models’ and the media which displays them for our titillation are culpable, but while they are above public accountability I don’t anticvipate any changes. The name of the game is of course selling air time and subsequently selling advertising space or time, no matter what the medium. This means that, even if they were so inclined, the media can never admit culpability or even undue influence (despite that being the very business they are in) in case they lose their paying sponsors.

        On the flip side, many celebrities seem prepared (or even determined) to flout the law and flaunt their excesses in order to increase their exposure, no matter what the cost to their own dignity or the effect that their behaviour may have upon their fans, followers or even just upon impressionable children. Celebrities have never been shiny sparkly clean people of course, but in a world where their every move is observed, catalogued and disseminated, I’d hope that many of them would learn to be a little more responsible. Pigs might fly…I’m being naive.

        I’m not sure how traditional my approach may be and it is complicated by the fact that we have a blended family; two of our kids are my biological children and they spend fifty percent of their time with their mum – we bought a house close to her to be able to facilitate that. My time with them is therefore more limited than I would prefer, but it’s what we all have to work with and I value them having their mum around and available.

        So: ‘traditional’? I really don’t know…certainly I try to be available for them as much as possible and I try to be as involved in their lives as they allow – with the occasional intrusional nudge if they seem to be heading in a ‘bad choice’ direction! I summarise my approach by saying to them that I hope that they can learn from MY early mistakes without them having to make them. As all parents know, that’s a pipe dream, but trying to make that real is one of the major parts of me being a parent – and as important as learning from my mistakes is the element of them realising that it’s OK to make mistakes, and that I have made them too. Sheesh; it’s a great job, but complicated!

        I understand also that there are several billion(and counting!) ways to be a parent and I’m not trying to preach; hopefully just expressing my position. I don’t have all of the answers and neither do I have the magic wand of parenthood. I know that I’m not remotely perfect but being the best father I can be is the most important thing in the world to me (very closely followed by being the best husband I can be). Learning from my experiences as a younger person, I’m currently trying to let my kids know who the person behind the ‘Dad’ label is and at the same time avoid them having to work out how the world works from scratch – by staying in the parent role. It’s hard work sometimes, but it’s fun, and as fulfilling as it gets!

        Elsimmo

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