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by Joel Best and Kathleen A. Bogle
NYU Press , 2014
Review by Hennie Weiss on Dec 9th 2014

Kids Gone Wild

Do teens today have sex at a younger age? Are they more promiscuous, more likely to have many different sexual partners, engage in various forms of sexual behavior not as common one or two generations ago? Is teen pregnancy more common? In short, have kids gone wild? Joel Best and Kathleen A. Bogle examine these claims through the lens of media coverage (talk shows, television news, online conversations, blogs and posts, movies and books) by focusing on rainbow parties, sex bracelets and sexting. Best and Bogle describe how media often fuel the fire when it comes to asserting that today's kids are more sexual than ever. When doing so, media tends to overdramatize, sensationalize and play on parental fears about the sexual behavior of teens and kids.

Best and Bogle depict how rainbow parties and sex bracelets received media coverage warning parents about the outrageous behavior of children today, focusing mostly on the sexual behavior of girls. But Best and Bogle state that rainbow parties and sex bracelets are more contemporary legends (that is, some teens may have engaged in similar behavior, but it is not a widespread phenomenon) fueled by media coverage and made to seem extremely prevalent among younger children and teens. The media coverage concerning rainbow parties and sex bracelets were fairly short lived in the sense that it was difficult to find hard evidence of teens engaging in such behavior, even though reporters and TV show hosts claimed it was common and widespread, and that children and teens, no matter socioeconomic status were engaging in outrageous sexual behavior. The stories told were less often based on firsthand experience than on secondhand reports in which a "friend of a friend" used to go to rainbow parties, or "kids at a different school" wore sex bracelets. In short, Best and Bogle describe rainbow parties and sex bracelets as legends that were short lived even though they received rather extensive media coverage.

Best and Bogle differentiate sexting from rainbow parties and sex bracelets due to the fact that there were plenty of first hand accounts and media coverage describing teens being convicted on charges relating to the possession and distribution of child pornography. Sexting sparked a nationwide discussion concerning the laws relating to sending and receiving nude or semi nude photos of youth. Teenagers, girls first and foremost, were told to be cautious about sending such pictures since they could end up in the hands of the wrong person, and since such photos could jeopardize the future (in terms of finding employment and applying for college) of those sending and receiving photos. Even though sexting turned out to be different due to the media exposure it received and due to the fact that there were real life stories used as examples, Best and Bogle conclude that sexting is not as widespread among teenagers as described. Younger children also do not use sexting to the same extent as older teenagers or adults. In fact, Best and Bogle use various forms of research to debunk the notion that teens are more out of control and sexual than past generations. When doing so they examine such notions that teenagers have sex at a younger age today, that they are more promiscuous and that they are more likely to have casual or anonymous sex. Best and Bogle discuss these issues in depth and conclude that teen sexual behavior today differs little from one or two generations ago. So why do we like to talk about kids gone wild? Best and Bogle sums it up:

"Throughout this book, we have shown how both print and electronic media informed the public about these legends by presenting exaggerated depictions of youth and sex and arguing that parents and society at large should be worried about today's kids. Why would journalists do this? Obviously, sex sells: such stories are believed to sell papers and win high television ratings. But in addition to the media's attempts to gain readers and attract viewers with sensationalistic headlines and stories about kids gone wild, these stories tapped into parents' and society's fears. Not only does sex sell, but so does fearmongering" (p, 135).

In short, the authors point to the need to use our critical thinking skills when presented with sensationalistic material relating to, but not limited to the sexual behavior of teens and youth. Rather than believing every new story presented by the media, we can research such stories using more believable sources, or even ask our children about the commonality concerning sexual behavior.     

The book is easy to follow and Best and Bogle describe the collection of data and the ways in which data is presented in an easy to understand manner. The intended audience is certainly those interested in or studying Sociology, Gender studies, Human Sexuality and Criminal Justice. But the book also extends to parents and those working with youth. It is an excellent guide to use when learning about the connection between contemporary legends, the media, and current behavior among youth. Chapter six "Too Sexual Too Soon: Why Believe the Hype?" is educational and calms some of the fears that parents might have regarding the sexual behavior of youth. In many ways it also negates the chaos and hysteria concerning youth and sex.

 

© 2014 Hennie Weiss

 

Hennie Weiss has a Master's degree in Sociology from California State University, Sacramento. Her academic interests include women's studies, gender, sexuality and feminism.