BY REBECCA PALMER
I am no longer a teen girl, but I remember what it was like to be one. The right words from a boy could send my heart a-flutter, especially if that boy was older, had money, social influence or even a car.
I bet most teens today are no different, regardless of their gender. I can see how praise and attention from teachers and other authority figures would be exhilarating. However, it is clear to most adults that it is wrong for a teen to have any kind of romantic relationship with a much-older adult.
We agree, and are saddened to hear about allegations against a Bountiful resident that he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student he met while coaching at a Kaysville charter school. We are also dismayed that situations such as this are less than rare in Davis County.
For many people, the mere idea of having a relationship with a teen is gut churning and disgusting. Science backs up that moral compulsion: A study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that in teens, the prefrontal cortex in the brain is one of the last areas to fully mature. That part of the frontal lobes “is responsible for such skills as setting priorities, organizing plans and ideas, forming strategies, controlling impulses, and allocating attention.”
Teens can’t plan, adapt socially, imagine future consequences or appropriately gauge emotional significance like adults can, the study concluded.
Studies also show that illegal sex between teens and adults results in increased risk of teen pregnancy, drug use, dropping out of high school and risky sexual behavior among victims.
Furthermore, a study by the national nonprofit Child Trends found that 52 percent of female teens in statutory rape relationships meet their partners within social networks such as schools, churches or friend circles, but 58 percent of male teens meet statutory rape partners within these networks.
That proves that solving this problem is a community responsibility. I urge all responsible adults who work with teens to talk with them about their romantic relationships to help guide them toward beneficial decision-making.
I also urge our state and local governments to become involved in the effort on more of a preventive basis. Punishment for abusers after the fact is vital, but nipping these situations in the bud would be infinitely better.
For example, Nevada and Virginia have websites about statutory rape that are chock-full of information for parents, teens and teachers. These sites explain what illegal sex with teens is, how to recognize it and the harms it can cause. At the very least, Utah should have such a website. Grants may be available to help.
Even better, schools could incorporate better discussions about the problem in health, psychology or sex education classes.
Other teens can also help their friends who may be victims. According to Child Trends, most teens who have sex report that their friends know their partners. Teens, if you see this I urge you to tell someone, or at least talk with your friend. Because of the negative consequences teen sex with adults can have, telling wouldn’t amount to tattling. It’s more like outing a wife batterer or calling the police if your neighbor’s house is on fire.
Finally, abusers simply must control themselves. Adults, regardless of how attractive a teen may be to you, know that becoming involved romantically with him or her will scar that person for life. You could harm every future relationship that person will have. Sex with any teen is not your right and not your decision, but only you are to blame for the harm you might cause.
Please leave your comments on this topic below or send me a letter to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.