Not My Kid

What Parents Believe about the Sex Lives of Their Teenagers

224 pages

4 tables

August, 2012

ISBN: 9780814722596



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Sinikka Elliott is Assistant Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University.

All books by Sinikka Elliott

Teenagers have sex. While almost all parents understand that many teenagers are sexually active, there is a paradox in many parents’ thinking: they insist their own teen children are not sexual, but characterize their children’s peers as sexually-driven and hypersexual. Rather than accuse parents of being in denial, Sinikka Elliott teases out the complex dynamics behind this thinking, demonstrating that it is rooted in fears and anxieties about being a good parent, the risks of teen sexual activity, and teenagers’ future economic and social status. Parents—like most Americans—equate teen sexuality with heartache, disease, pregnancy, promiscuity, and deviance and want their teen children to be protected from these things.

Going beyond the hype and controversy, Elliott examines how a diverse group of American parents of teenagers understand teen sexuality, showing that, in contrast to the idea that parents are polarized in their beliefs, parents are confused, anxious, and ambivalent about teen sexual activity and how best to guide their own children’s sexuality. Framed with an eye to the debates about teenage abstinence and sex education in school, Elliott also links parents’ understandings to the contradictory messages and broad moral panic around child and teen sexuality. Ultimately, Elliott considers the social and cultural conditions that might make it easier for parents to talk with their teens about sex, calling for new ways of thinking and talking about teen sexuality that promote social justice and empower parents to embrace their children as fully sexual subjects.


  • "Not My Kid is a necessary addition to the sex education literature...This book helps to answer the question of why contemporary young adults, in light of increasing awareness, still rely on and perpetuate sexual stereotypes...Not My Kid offers a fresh perspective on teenage sexuality that does not frame sexuality as negative; instead, it explains why these tropes are so common. Elliott points out how many of the ways that we conceive of and discuss teenage sexuality do not allow for a comprehensive picture of satisfying, pleasurable, agentic sex for young adults, instead reinforcing stereotypes and binary thinking. This book would enhance a variety of classes, covering families, sexuality, and inequality."

    —Rachel Kalish, Gender & Society

  • "[Elliott registers] the intense bonds that parents make to and with their children and the ways that sexuality—seen as always looming on the horizon—threatens to undo those bonds. The stories Elliott is able to tell are emotionally dense...[This book] is a powerful sociological argument about the workings of social inequality."

    —Jen Glibert, Social Forces

  • "Not My Kid successfully portrays the paradox in how parents think about teenage sexuality in general versus how they think about their teenagers' sexuality specifically...highly informative."

    —D' Lane R. Compton, American Journal of Sociology

  • "Elliott effectively uses interviews with a wide variety of parents to show how parents respond to social norms and views of their own children in a way that often results in resisting to address adolescent sexuality forthrightly... a well-supported, educational overview of a wide range of parents and their views on their teenager's sexuality."

    —Cassandra Dishman, Journal of Youth Adolescence

  • "Sinikka Elliott’s book offers the balance one hopes for as a reader of a qualitative study: clear takeaways and a nuanced, complex analysis surrounding them.... Students will be drawn in and motivated by the lively topic, accessible writing style, and lively evidence; and along the way, students and instructors will get the opportunity for a rich, systematic, and capacity-building sociological adventure."

    —Emily W. Kane, Teaching Sociology

  • “Beautifully written, engaging, and insightful, Not My Kid advances our critical understanding of the complex tensions, contradictions, and paradoxes parents decipher as they make sense of the sex lives of their adolescent children. Sinikka Elliott invites readers to think critically about the revealing stories of parenting and family life that give life to this relevant book, and the emerging implications for the future of sex education programs and debates in an increasingly diverse and technological society.”

    —Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez, author of Erotic Journeys: Mexican Immigrants and Their Sex Lives

  • Not My Kid is an engaging and incisive contribution to contemporary debates over youth and sexuality education. As Elliott debunks prevailing myths about parents, kids, and ‘the talk’ about sex, a new picture emerges in which parents navigate and contribute to a broad social context characterized by ambivalence, anxiety, and persistent inequalities. Elliott helps readers appreciate the need for social policies that confront the culture of fear surrounding young people’s sexuality and bolster parents’ efforts to support their children’s development as sexual beings.”

    —Jessica Fields, author of Risky Lessons: Sex Education and Social Inequality

  • "The book's prescriptive argument in seeking social and cultural change is well made and convincing."


  • "[This book] brings a mirror to our society, an image that we need to closely examine and see if we like what we see."

    Sacramento Book Review

  • "Highly readable and accessibly written, Not My Kid is suitable for a wide range of audiences, including undergraduate students and general readers. Elliott makes extensive use of her informants’ own words and stories throughout the book, enhancing its appeal...Not My Kid promises to be an excellent resource in courses on human sexuality, gender, families, and social problems, as well as introductory sociology."

    Sex Roles