Mixed Messages: Norms and Social Control around Teen Sex and Pregnancy

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Sex is bad. Unprotected sex is a problem. Having a baby would be a disaster. Abortion is a sin. Teenagers in the United States hear conflicting messages about sex from everyone around them. How do teens understand these messages?

In Mixed Messages, Stefanie Mollborn examines how social norms and social control work through in-depth interviews with college students and teen mothers and fathers, revealing the tough conversations teeangers just can't have with adults. Delving into teenagers' complicated social worlds Mollborn argues that by creating informal social sanctions like gossip and exclusion and formal communication such as sex education, families, peers, schools, and communities strategize to gain control over teens' behaviors. However, while teens strategize to keep control, they resist the constraints of the norms, revealing the variety of outcomes that occur beyond compliance or deviance.

By showing that the norms existing today around teen sex are ineffective, failing to regulate sexual behavior, and instead punishing teens that violate them, Mollborn calls for a more thoughtful and consistent dialogue between teens and adults, emphasizing messages that will lead to more positive health outcomes.