Happy Teens

August 20, 2007

Jane Jimenez

Jane Jimenez

Mass Marketing 101 teaches that successful marketing campaigns sell with promises of happiness.  Thus, we end up with hamburgers in the hands of Paris Hilton, scantily clad and writhing seductively in suds washing over the ultimate in cars, a Bentley.

This 2005 television ad had it all…a famous pretty girl, a luxurious car and sex…the ultimate symbols of human happiness.  By all accounts, Carl’s Junior executives were pleased.

This formula is repeated day in and out.  And in modern America, the formula has made its way from adult ad campaigns to those targeting teens…and their younger brothers and sisters.  Playboy bunnies are appliquéd to tops for toddlers, and rhinestones spell out Hey Baby! on the seat of velveteen pants riding low on the hips of ten-year-olds.

Sex sells.  This has become a truism in Mass Marketing 101.  Have a buxom beauty hold a widget while staring seductively through the camera lens, and you’ll sell a million widgets.  If we buy their widget, we will be best friends with the buxom beauty and we will be happy.

Everywhere, sex is connected with happiness.  Entire prime time television series serve up episode after episode where pretty people spend all of their time thinking, talking and doing sex.  And sex educators take their cue.

Paid by Planned Parenthood, educators stand in front of teens and remind them that “sex is natural…when you are ready, we can show you how to do it ‘responsibly’…your parents don’t have to know…after all, sex is your right…you have a right to be happy…and sex is the basic human drive that leads to happiness.”

Consequences?  Well, if you manage to encounter a consequence when your saferrrrrrrrr sex practices fail to “protect you,” Planned Parenthood has a tool kit of remedies.  You can detect your consequences through testing.  You can treat your consequences with drugs.  And you can destroy your consequences with a “surgical procedure.”  After all, you have a right to be happy.

This is the world we have created for our teens…to make them happy.

Wrong!  We are wrong.  We have been wrong for years.  And now a poll by The Associated Press and MTV of 1,280 young people ages 13-24 lays out for adults what our teens really want in order to be happy.

“What makes you happy?”  Teens resoundingly reply, “spending time with family.”  Kristiana St. John, 17, from Queens, New York, says, “They’re my foundation…My mom tells me that even if I do something stupid, she’s still going to love me no matter what.  Just knowing that makes me feel very happy and blessed.”

Money?  Almost no teens responded “money” when asked what makes them happy.

Sex?  In spite of the hard sell by television and the saferrrrrrrrr promises of Planned Parenthood, “being sexually active actually leads to less happiness among 13-17 year olds according to the survey.  If you’re 18 to 24, sex might lead to more happiness in the moment, but not in general.”

Future Goals?  Marriage.  Ninety-two percent of these young people either definitely or probably want to get married.

Religion?  More than half of the young people said they believed in a higher power that has an influence over their happiness…nearly half said religion and spirituality are very important to them.

Reading through extended reports on the survey, the good news is that teens seem to know more about happiness than we give them credit for.  If we wanted to help them move toward happiness,

  • we would affirm the value of religion and its role in their life and decisions,
  • we would help them maintain a “general stress-free feeling” where they were “not worried about anything”,
  • we would teach them skills needed to create successful relationships leading to happy marriages,
  • we would strengthen the bonds between students and their parents, and
  • we would link the deepest desires of young people for education, family, marriage and children into a meaningful life plan.

The best news for parents and adults is that we have educators who have made it their goal to truly help teens reach happiness.  This latest survey and its results confirm what these educators find from their work in the classrooms.

Who are these educators?  Working with many different agencies and programs around the country, they teach and encourage teens to abstain from sex until marriage as a way to eliminate stress and negative consequences from their life.  They build bonds between parents and teens.  They support parental goals by giving teens medically-accurate information.  And they teach life-skills to help in developing healthy relationships today and in building a foundation for healthy marriages and parenting in the future.

These educators are leading the way to happiness for teens.  Yet, they struggle against the “wisdom” of a culture saturated with “sex-will-make-you-happy” messages and promises that, if not “safe,” sex can at least be “saferrrrrrrrrr.”

You can play a part in the effort to support teens in their quest for happiness.  Check out the National Abstinence Education Association at www.abstinenceassociation.org.  Review the research and reports that tell the truth about abstinence education.  And watch for action alerts as Congress debates whether students should be able to have abstinence education.

It is time for us to take hold of the messages sold to our teens by the media and by “sex-will-make-you-happy” teachers.  Our teens have told us what they need in order to be happy.  It is time for us to listen.