Where all the Children are Above Average

Have you ever noticed that most parents think that schools in OTHER people’s neighborhoods are bad, but theirs gets the highest of marks?  Garrison Keillor, the well-known humorist describes the fictional Lake Wobegon as a place where “all the children are above average.”  In fact, researchers have even used the phrase “Lake Wobegon effect” to describe the cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others.

This seems to be in effect as well in our perception of our own teens’ sexuality.  A recent study indicates that we as parents have a hard time recognizing that our teens may be interested in sex, but we are certain that it’s those other sexually precocious kids that are the ones tempting our innocent young’uns.  In fact, “Parents consistently characterized their children as young, immature and naïve.”  How can this affect our parenting?  For one, we may think it’s not yet time to talk to our children about the birds and the bees, or about dating, or STDs or oral sex.  On more than one occasion I have spoken with parents who explain the lack of conversations they’ve had with their teens with phrases such as “not ready,” “not even thinking about girls yet,” “innocent,” etc.  And yet, in the classrooms, teens consistently indicate that their parents don’t know the things that they are thinking about and being exposed to.  When we note that 30% of 15- to 17-year-olds have had intercourse (and even more have experimented with other forms of sex), it’s not too hard to figure out that we would be wise to recognize that our own little Danielle or Jason probably knows a lot more than we think…and realize that if we want to be the first to introduce a topic (and our values), we need to start sooner than we had expected.