Most parents aren’t great at educating their kids about the birds and the bees. But children are also missing out on general relationship advice, according to a new study. Researchers found that 75 percent of kids surveyed wish their parents had taught them how to manage the emotional aspects of their relationships, rather than just informing them about sex. The findings suggest that parents are largely doing “the talk” wrong—and that we need to focus less on how youth should manage casual sexual relationships, and more on how they should foster healthy, romantic ones.
We tend to assume that our kids “are going to learn to love naturally, or that they will magically or organically figure this out,” coauthor Richard Weissbourd of Harvard University told Quartz. “There’s a lot of evidence that’s not the case.”
Parents, as well as schools, tend to approach sex education with a heightened focus on hook-up culture. But the data indicate that the notion of a pervasive, high school hook-up culture is mostly a myth. When students were asked about their ideal Friday nights, only 16 percent of those surveyed indicated interest in casual sex. The rest felt their weekends would be better spent with significant others, with friends, or alone. That’s not to say solid sex education isn’t essential. But the study suggests focusing on the sexual sides of relationships isn’t serving the needs of the average kid.
Our overemphasis on sex rather than romance can also lead to a number of problems for kids as they mature, including high divorce rates, unhappy marriages, and even domestic abuse. Despite statistics suggesting misogyny and sexual harassment are as prevalent as ever, the study found that more than 60 percent of kids never have a conversation with their parents about consent, or even about the “importance of not pressuring someone to have sex with you.” Shockingly, two thirds of the kids also told researchers they felt media reports of sexual harassment were “overhyped”.
Parents need to have more detailed, meaningful conversations with their kids about the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationships, the authors conclude. And we desperately need to revamp our approach to sex ed, so it addresses the issues kids are actually facing. Because while we now thoroughly address a hook-up culture that barely exists and arm our kids with condoms, it seems we’ve forgotten to teach them how to navigate relationships, obtain consent, and be safe, supportive partners. Unfortunately, that’s something they’re unlikely to figure out on their own.