Category Archives: Kids

Parenting in a Hypersexualized World

The average age at which young people first have sex is 17 years old. This is usually before they even graduate high school. In our hyper-sexualized American society, kids are being exposed to objectification of sex and the body through a number of outlets, such as advertising, pop culture, and even the clothes and toys being marketed to young children. By the time they reach middle school, a lot of them are desensitized to the sexualization all around them. Kids who are still young enough to require parental permission to go on a school field trip are considering themselves old enough to have sex.

This whole scenario isn’t new, though. It didn’t pop up all of a sudden as the 21st century moved in. Rather, it is the result of gradual societal change over the last 50 years. In this article from The Wall Street Journal, writer Jennifer Moses looks at the way girls and young women dress as a reflection of larger social and moral values. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the way she discusses how this is all a product of the sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Parents who had the freedom to engage in what they considered to be sex without consequences are raising children who eagerly partake in that lifestyle, encouraged by their peers and the media. Even if parents regret their own choices, and want their children to be free from that suffering, feel they have no place to correct their kids and establish moral guidelines that they need. As a result, young privileged women who can have whatever they want are nonetheless growing up with the idea that their femininity and even their personhood only go so far as their sexuality.

As Ms. Moses points out, this doesn’t signal a call to restore antiquated standards of femininity or to make sex taboo. Rather, it should signal a call to parents, and all those who are hoping to become parents, to break this cycle of the hook-up culture. They have the responsibility to guard their children, especially their daughters, from the mindset that women are only worth as much as their body. Parents have the ability to instill in their children a sense of self-confidence and self-worth, starting at a young age. By providing a strong alternative to mainstream values of sexuality and forming a network of support as their children grow up, they have the chance to create a change in the way society values sex.



The Social Costs of Pornography

Do you know about the Witherspoon Institute’s The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations?

It might not be the most spirited of holiday presents, but we’d encourage you to check out the project’s site. The project began with a conference at Princeton hosted in 2008 by the Witherspoon Institute that sought to gather leading experts in several fields, including economics, psychology, sociology, and law, to present a rigorously argued overview of pornography in today’s society.

The debate regarding porn use is one that has massive consequences for the mental, emotional, and physical health of families and individuals. As Jean Bethke Elshtain (Professor of Social and Political Ethics, University of Chicago, and Thomas and Dorothy Leavy Chair in the Foundations of American Freedom, Georgetown University) puts it,

I used to be much more of a “live and let live” person on this issue, years ago, in part because some of those who pushed for the censorship of pornography were so authoritarian. But the new technology has sent me in another direction…. I hope the analyses, the data, the arguments, and the images that flow forth from the pages of The Social Costs of Pornography will assist the reader in the future to avoid the pitfalls of unrestrained libertarianism, on the one hand, and unrestrained, top-down censoriousness, on the other. The “moral” need not be the cramped and cribbed “moralistic.” The point to be considered is: What sort of community is this? Is it reasonably decent and kind? Is it a fit place for human habitation, especially for the young? What happens to the most vulnerable among us? How do we ill-dignify the human body, and how do we forestall such affronts? These questions are not easy, but this learned volume helps push the debate forward in discerning ways.

These questions – “What sort of community is this? Is it reasonably decent and kind? Is it a fit place for human habitation, especially for the young? What happens to the most vulnerable among us? How do we ill-dignify the human body, and how do we forestall such affronts?” – are largely the topic of Harvard’s anti-porn week in February.

If you’d like to help organize anti-porn week in February, contact us at

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Family Matters

When it comes to the debate over marriage and family in the United States today, much of the focus is on how each spouse could either benefit or suffer from the institution of marriage.

In this op-ed from the Boston Herald, the author illustrates how marriage functions for the benefit of society as a whole by serving as the foundation of the family. Stable families provide ideal conditions in which children can grow up. Data has shown that generally the most stable families are grounded in a healthy relationship between the mother and the father, who are married to each other. The author discusses how separating the institution of marriage from the process of bearing and raising children ignores a whole dimension of marriage, with negative consequences. This illogical departure from reality significantly affects the children themselves, and leads to a general decline of the welfare of society.


Wall Street Journal- Why to have more kids

Children require a lot of time, attention, and material resources. The idea of raising a family in our society is doubtless a daunting one for many. Data, however, suggests that the benefits of having kids outweigh the “costs,” and ultimately children serve as the source of happiness and satisfaction for many parents.  In the Wall Street Journal, economics professor Bryan Caplan makes a case for having kids, summarizing the argument with, “if… you’re interested in kids, but scared of the sacrifices, research has two big lessons. First, parents’ sacrifice is much smaller than it looks, and childless and single is far inferior to married with children. Second, parents’ sacrifice is much larger than it has to be.”

The Breeders’ Cup


June 19, 2010

Amid the Father’s Day festivities, many of us are privately asking a Scroogely question: “Having kids—what’s in it for me?” An economic perspective on happiness, nature and nurture provides an answer: Parents’ sacrifice is much smaller than it looks, and much larger than it has to be.

Most of us believe that kids used to be a valuable economic asset. They worked the farm, and supported you in retirement. In the modern world, the story goes, the economic benefits of having kids seem to have faded away. While parents today make massive personal and financial sacrifices, children barely reciprocate. When they’re young, kids monopolize the remote and complain about the food, but do little to help around the house; when you’re old, kids forget to return your calls and ignore your advice, but take it for granted that you’ll continue to pay your own bills.

Many conclude that if you value your happiness and spending money, the only way to win the modern parenting game is not to play. Low fertility looks like a sign that we’ve finally grasped the winning strategy. In almost all developed nations, the total fertility rate—the number of children the average woman can expect to have in her lifetime—is well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children. (The U.S. is a bit of an outlier, with a rate just around replacement.) Empirical happiness research seems to validate this pessimism about parenting: All else equal, people with kids are indeed less happy than people without.

While the popular and the academic cases against kids have a kernel of truth, both lack perspective. By historical standards, modern parents get a remarkably good deal. When economist Ted Bergstrom of the University of California, Santa Barbara reviewed the anthropological evidence, he found that in traditional societies, kids don’t pay. Among hunter-gatherers, children consume more calories than they produce, and grandparents produce more calories than they consume virtually until the day they die. Agricultural societies are much the same. Only in recent decades did people start living long enough to collect much of a “pension” from their kids. While big financial transfers from children to their parents remain rare, only in the modern world can retirees expect to enjoy two decades of their descendents’ company and in-kind assistance.

It’s also true that modern parents are less happy than their childless counterparts. But happiness researchers rarely emphasize how small the happiness gap is. Suppose you take the National Opinion Research Center’s canonical General Social Survey, and compare Americans with the same age, marital status and church attendance. (These controls are vital, because older, married and church-going people have more happiness and more kids). Then every additional child makes parents just 1.3 percentage points less likely to be “very happy.” In contrast, the estimated happiness boost of marriage is about 18 percentage points; couples probably have fewer highs after they wed, but the security and companionship more than compensate. In the data, the people to pity are singles, not parents.

A closer look at the General Social Survey also reveals that child No. 1 does almost all the damage. Otherwise identical people with one child instead of none are 5.6 percentage points less likely to be very happy. Beyond that, additional children are almost a happiness free lunch. Each child after the first reduces your probability of being very happy by a mere .6 percentage points.

Happiness researchers also neglect a plausible competing measure of kids’ impact on parents’ lives: customer satisfaction. If you want to know whether consumers are getting a good deal, it’s worth asking, “If you had to do it over again, would you make the same decision?” The only high-quality study of parents’ satisfaction dates back to a nation-wide survey of about 1,400 parents by the Research Analysis Corp. in 1976, but its results were stark: When asked, “If you had it to do over again, would you or would you not have children?” 91% of parents said yes, and only 7% expressed buyer’s remorse.

You might think that everyone rationalizes whatever decision they happened to make, but a 2003 Gallup poll found that wasn’t true. When asked, “If you had to do it over again, how many children would you have, or would you not have any at all?” 24% of childless adults over the age of 40 wanted to be child-free the second time around, and only 5% more were undecided. While you could protest that childlessness isn’t always a choice, it’s also true that many pregnancies are unplanned. Bad luck should depress the customer satisfaction of both groups, but parenthood wins hands down.

The main problem with parenting pessimists, though, is that they assume there’s no acceptable way to make parenting less work and more fun. Parents may feel like their pressure, encouragement, money and time are all that stands between their kids and failure. But decades’ worth of twin and adoption research says the opposite: Parents have a lot more room to safely maneuver than they realize, because the long-run effects of parenting on children’s outcomes are much smaller than they look.

Think about everything parents want for their children. The traits most parents hope for show family resemblance: If you’re healthy, smart, happy, educated, rich, righteous or appreciative, the same tends to be true for your parents, siblings and children. Of course, it’s difficult to tell nature from nurture. To disentangle the two, researchers known as behavioral geneticists have focused on two kinds of families: those with twins, and those that adopt. If identical twins show a stronger resemblance than fraternal twins, the reason is probably nature. If adoptees show any resemblance to the families that raised them, the reason is probably nurture.

Parents try to instill healthy habits that last a lifetime. But the two best behavioral genetic studies of life expectancy—one of 6,000 Danish twins born between 1870 and 1900, the other of 9,000 Swedish twins born between 1886 and 1925—found zero effect of upbringing. Twin studies of height, weight and even teeth reach similar conclusions. This doesn’t mean that diet, exercise and tooth-brushing don’t matter—just that parental pressure to eat right, exercise and brush your teeth after meals fails to win children’s hearts and minds.

Parents also strive to turn their children into smart and happy adults, but behavioral geneticists find little or no evidence that their effort pays off. In research including hundreds of twins who were raised apart, identical twins turn out to be much more alike in intelligence and happiness than fraternal twins, but twins raised together are barely more alike than twins raised apart. In fact, pioneering research by University of Minnesota psychologist David Lykken found that twins raised apart were more alike in happiness than twins raised together. Maybe it’s just a fluke, but it suggests that growing up together inspires people to differentiate themselves; if he’s the happy one, I’ll be the malcontent.

Parents use many tactics to influence their kids’ schooling and future income. Some we admire: reading to kids, helping them with homework, praising hard work. Others we resent: fancy tutors, legacy admissions, nepotism. According to the research, however, these tactics barely work. Dartmouth economist Bruce Sacerdote studied about 1,200 families that adopted disadvantaged Korean children. The families spanned a broad range; they only needed incomes 25% above the poverty level to be eligible to adopt. Nevertheless, family income and neighborhood income had zero effect on adoptees’ ultimate success in school and work.

Other aspects of family environment mattered in the Korean adoptee study, but not much. If a mother had one extra year of education, her adoptee typically finished five more weeks of school, and was two percentage points more likely to graduate from college—but didn’t earn more money. If an adoptee was raised with one extra sibling, he typically finished six fewer weeks of school, was three percentage points less likely to graduate from college, and earned 4% less. Studies of Swedish adoptees, and American, Australian and Swedish twins say about the same.

Behavioral geneticists also find that the effect of upbringing on morals is quite superficial. Parents have a strong effect on which religion and political party their kids identify with, but little on their adult behavior or outlook. Some, but not all, twin and adoption studies find that parents have a modest effect on tobacco, alcohol and drug use, juvenile delinquency, and when daughters (but not sons) start having sex. The most meaningful fruit of parenting, however, is simply appreciation—the way your children perceive and remember you. When 1,400 older Swedish twins were asked to describe their parents, identical twins’ answers were only slightly more similar than fraternal twins’, and twins raised together gave much more similar answers than twins raised apart. If you create a loving and harmonious home for your children, they’ll probably remember it for as long as they live.

Critics often attack behavioral genetics with a reductio ad absurdum: “If it doesn’t matter how you raise your kids, why not lock them in a closet?” The answer is that twin and adoption studies measure the effect of parenting styles that people frequently use. Locking kids in closets fortunately isn’t one of them. It’s also important to remember that most studies focus on kids’ long-run outcomes. Parents often change their kids in the short-run, but as kids grow up, their parents’ influence wears off.

Many find behavioral genetics depressing, but it’s great news for parents and potential parents. If you think that your kids’ future rests in your hands, you’ll probably make many painful “investments”—and feel guilty that you didn’t do more. Once you realize that your kids’ future largely rests in their own hands, you can give yourself a guilt-free break.

If you enjoy reading with your children, wonderful. But if you skip the nightly book, you’re not stunting their intelligence, ruining their chances for college or dooming them to a dead-end job. The same goes for the other dilemmas that weigh on parents’ consciences. Watching television, playing sports, eating vegetables, living in the right neighborhood: Your choices have little effect on your kids’ development, so it’s OK to relax. In fact, relaxing is better for the whole family. Riding your kids “for their own good” rarely pays off, and it may hurt how your children feel about you.

Once parents stop overcharging themselves for every child, the next logical step is straight out of Econ 101: Buy more. When you raise your children the easy way, another child is more likely to pass the cost-benefit test. This doesn’t mean you should copy the Duggars with their 19 children; when prices fall, Econ 101 says “Buy more,” not “Buy dozens.” But whatever your priorities, the science of nature and nurture tilts the scales in favor of fertility.

As you weigh your options, don’t forget that the costs of kids are front-loaded, and the benefits are back-loaded. Babies are a lot of work even if you’re easy on yourself. But the older kids get, the more independent they become; eventually, you’ll want them to find time for you. So when weighing whether to have another child, you shouldn’t base your decision on how you feel after a few days—or months—of sleepless nights with a new baby. Focus on the big picture, consider the ideal number of children to have when you’re 30, 40, 60 and 80, and strike a happy medium. Remember: The more kids you have, the more grandkids you can expect. As an old saying goes, “If I had known grandchildren were this much fun I would have had them first.”

Father’s Day is a time to reflect on whether you want to be a parent—or want to be a parent again. If you simply don’t like kids, research has little to say to you. If however you’re interested in kids, but scared of the sacrifices, research has two big lessons. First, parents’ sacrifice is much smaller than it looks, and childless and single is far inferior to married with children. Second, parents’ sacrifice is much larger than it has to be. Twin and adoption research shows that you don’t have to go the extra mile to prepare your kids for the future. Instead of trying to mold your children into perfect adults, you can safely kick back, relax and enjoy your journey together—and seriously consider adding another passenger.

Lost in a world without courtship

Traditional family values are passe to my young hipster generation, but the culture of casual sexuality breaks down society. Far be it from me to call for a return to the courtship society (though my daddy would love that), but let me offer a glimpse of the current romance climate. Young marriage is socially frowned upon, so young adults naturally take sexual and emotional yearning into their own hands at great cost to future marital strength. Their inclination toward serial cohabitation breeds unhappiness and trains for divorce.

For those wary of moral statements, read on, for Michael Gerson speaks as the sociologist when he describes this rather inconspicuous but mainstream lifestyle fad (yes, just a fad, says the optimist). Gerson’s Washington Post article couldn’t be any more relevant to those in the Harvard community. Here’s a good summary (like usual, my summaries consist of most of the article):

“There is a segment of society for whom traditional family values are increasingly irrelevant, and for whom spring-break sexual liberationism is increasingly costly: men and women in their 20s.

This is the period of life in which society’s most important social commitments take shape — commitments that produce stability, happiness and children. But the facts of life for 20-somethings are challenging. Puberty — mainly because of improved health — comes steadily sooner. Sexual activity kicks off earlier. But the average age at which people marry has grown later; it is now about 26 for women, 28 for men.

This opens a hormone-filled gap — a decade and more of likely sexual activity before marriage. And for those in that gap, there is little helpful guidance from the broader culture. Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, argues that the “courtship narrative” in the past was clear: dating, engagement, marriage, children. This narrative has been disrupted without being replaced, leaving many 20-somethings in a “relational wasteland.”

The casual sex promoted in advertising and entertainment often leads, in the real world of fragile hearts and STDs, to emotional and physical wreckage…

In the absence of a courtship narrative, young people have evolved a casual, ad hoc version of their own: cohabitation. From 1960 to 2007, the number of Americans cohabiting increased fourteenfold. For some, it is a test-drive for marriage. For others, it is an easier, low-commitment alternative to marriage. About 40 percent of children will now spend some of their childhood in a cohabiting union.

How is this working out? Not very well. Relationships defined by lower levels of commitment are, not unexpectedly, more likely to break up. Three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up by the time they turn 16, compared with about one-third of children born to married parents. So apart from the counsel of cold showers or “let the good times roll,” is there any good advice for those traversing the relational wilderness? Religion and morality contribute ideals of character. But social science also indicates some rough, practical wisdom.

First, while it may not be realistic to maintain the connection between marriage and sex, it remains essential to maintain the connection between marriage and childbearing. Marriage is the most effective institution to bind two parents for a long period in the common enterprise of raising a child — particularly encouraging fathers to invest time and attention in the lives of their children. And the fatherless are some of the most disadvantaged, betrayed people in our society, prone to delinquency, poverty and academic failure. Cohabitation is no place for children.

Second, the age of first marriage is important to marital survival and happiness. Teen marriage is generally a bad idea, with much higher rates of divorce. Romeo and Juliet were, in fact, young fools. Later marriage has been one of the reasons for declining national divorce rates. But this does not mean the later the better. Divorce rates trend downward until leveling off in the early 20s. But people who marry after 27 tend to have less happy marriages — perhaps because partners are set in their ways or have unrealistically high standards. The marital sweet spot seems to be in the early to mid-20s.

Third, having a series of low-commitment relationships does not bode well for later marital commitment. Some of this expresses preexisting traits — people who already have a “nontraditional” view of commitment are less likely to be committed in marriage. But there is also evidence, according to Wilcox, that multiple failed relationships can “poison one’s view of the opposite sex.” Serial cohabitation trains people for divorce. In contrast, cohabitation by engaged couples seems to have no adverse effect on eventual marriage.

There is little use in preaching against a hurricane of social change. But delaying marriage creates moral, emotional and practical complications. The challenge, as always, is to humanize change. The answer, even in the relational wasteland, is responsibility, commitment and sacrifice for the sake of children.”

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Vampires and Young Love

Teenage girls read Twilight over and over. Heck, you can’t check the book out of Widener because of the long waitlist. Why does this vampire romance appeal to girls? Why did millions of girls fall for Edward? Read Caitlin Flanagan’s article “What Girls Want” in the Atlantic – no excuses (especially if you were that teenage girl who ate up young adult fiction like popcorn…).

Here’s an excerpt:

The erotic relationship between Bella and Edward is what makes this book—and the series—so riveting to its female readers. There is no question about the exact nature of the physical act that looms over them. Either they will do it or they won’t, and afterward everything will change for Bella, although not for Edward. Nor is the act one that might result in an equal giving and receiving of pleasure. If Edward fails—even once—in his great exercise in restraint, he will do what the boys in the old pregnancy-scare books did to their girlfriends: he will ruin her. More exactly, he will destroy her, ripping her away from the world of the living and bringing her into the realm of the undead. If a novel of today were to sound these chords so explicitly but in a nonsupernatural context, it would be seen (rightly) as a book about “abstinence,” and it would be handed out with the tracts and bumper stickers at the kind of evangelical churches that advocate the practice as a reasonable solution to the age-old problem of horny young people. (Because it takes three and a half very long books before Edward and Bella get it on—during a vampiric frenzy in which she gets beaten to a pulp, and discovers her Total Woman—and because Edward has had so many decades to work on his moves, the books constitute a thousand-page treatise on the art of foreplay.) That the author is a practicing Mormon is a fact every reviewer has mentioned, although none knows what to do with it, and certainly none can relate it to the novel; even the supercreepy “compound” where the boring half of Big Love takes place doesn’t have any vampires. But the attitude toward female sexuality—and toward the role of marriage and childbearing—expressed in these novels is entirely consistent with the teachings of that church. In the course of the four books, Bella will be repeatedly tempted—to have sex outside of marriage, to have an abortion as a young married woman, to abandon the responsibilities of a good and faithful mother—and each time, she makes the “right” decision. The series does not deploy these themes didactically or even moralistically. Clearly Meyer was more concerned with questions of romance and supernatural beings than with instructing young readers how to lead their lives. What is interesting is how deeply fascinated young girls, some of them extremely bright and ambitious, are by the questions the book poses, and by the solutions their heroine chooses.

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Harmful Effects of Early Sexual Activity

An eye-opening study if you haven’t seen it –

Early initiation of sexual activity and higher numbers of non-marital sex partners are linked in turn to a wide variety of negative life outcomes, including increased rates of infection with sexually transmitted diseases, increased rates of out-of-wedlock pregnancy and birth, increased single parenthood, decreased marital stability, increased maternal and child poverty, increased abortion, increased depression, and decreased happiness.

Early sexual activity seriously undermines girls’ ability to form stable marriages as adults.

Beginning sexual activity at an older age is linked to higher levels of personal happiness.

The greater the increase in the number of non-marital sex partners, the lower the probability of personal happiness.

Check out the charts.

[“The study is based on the National Survey of Family Growth, a survey fielded in 1995 to a nationally representative sample of roughly 10,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44, sponsored and funded by the Centers for Disease Control of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Because men are not included in the NSFG, they are not included anywhere in this report.”]

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Not the generation you thought we were…

While I am generally not a big fan of the EXTREMELY liberal bent on seemingly all New York Times articles, I think that I can live with this one:

According to the article, teens are waiting longer to have sex, in addition to having less overall sex.  Parker-Pope writes that, “The reality is that in many ways, today’s teenagers are more conservative about sex than previous generations.”  STOP THE PRESSES!  Modern teenagers, CONSERVATIVE in their sexual behavior? Is this POSSIBLE!??!

These aren’t our words as an organization speaking here, these are simple facts – patterns indicate that teenagers are simply not having sex as much.  Why?  Could it possibly reflect a deeper sentiment of the meaning of sexuality, and how it is much more meaningful than a one-night stand?

A word to the wise: the article smacks of hypocrisy, as most NYT articles do, because it claims that our society is NOT one in “moral” danger, because according to their definition oral sex does not fall under their subjective doomsday definition.  I once heard it lectured in a very memorable gov 97a class that oral sex is a cross-society woman’s compromise between having sex and not having sex: she is seen as complying with a man’s wishes, while she doesn’t have to feel the cultural shame of actually “having sex.”

Not only is oral sex, by its definition, actual SEX, but it IS a cause for moral concern among youth, and especially among young women.  Who understands the emotional consequences of such actions better than women?  Do women feel better if a guy dumps her if she “only had oral sex” with him?  Isn’t that as emotionally damaging as if she had had “real” sex with him?

To me, this all just seems quite silly, these subjective definitions of sex.  Abstinenece is abstinence, sex is sex.  Why color oral sex as a shade of abstinence when it is, in fact, no such thing?


Attractiveness – What happened to the 10-year-olds?

A Canadian survey reveals that kids as young as 10 and 11 are experiencing insecurity over their physical attractiveness. Girls worry about weight, but so do boys, who want to be neither too skinny nor too fat.

Overall, 7.3% of the girls included in the study reported that they didn’t like they way they looked, but that increased proportionately as girls’ weight, measured by body mass index (BMI), went up. For girls with normal body weight, 5.7% reported being unhappy with their bodies, among those who were overweight, 10.4% did, and among girls who were categorized as obese, 13.1% were unhappy with how they looked…For boys of normal weight, 7.6% reported not liking how they look.

This insecurity is no surprise as culture, media, advertising, marketing, and magazines stress the importance of outward appearance and sexual appeal. Thongs marketed in the kid’s sections in major department stores…

Is inner beauty a thing of the past? Why are 10 year-olds stepping on scales and staring in the mirror? They should be riding bikes, selling lemonade, and reading James and the Giant Peach.

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