Talking Teens
“Youth is wasted on the young” is a cliché that doesn’t ring true when you think of all the challenges today’s youth face. Caught between the awkward ages of not being a child and being just shy an adult, teenagers muddle through into young adulthood, facing challenges, influences and fears few adults have had to deal with.

Curious as to how teens handle the multitude of influences that clutter the channels of their lives, I talked with several high school students about the influence sexually explicit hip-hop lyrics and provocative videos had or have on their decision to become sexually active at a young age. Most felt the influence, but they agreed a strong individual should be able to resist and make his or her own decisions.

I asked, “Do you think the music you listen to, the books, movies, television, and clothing, any of that, influence teenagers to become involved in sex too early?”

Sixteen-year-old Tashiara said, “It doesn’t influence me, but for other people, I think so because they try to follow the in-crowd. And what the songs say, or whatever their favorite artist says, they think it is OK to do. I personally listen to the Disney Channel and rock music. I don’t listen to hip-hop.”

Tashiara said she has a boyfriend who is also committed to not engaging in a sexual relationship; in fact, she believes a person should be about 18 or 20 before deciding to engage in a sexual relationship.

Keyona, 16, had a slightly different take on the question. “I do think teens are influenced because teens are very impressionable, and certain teens have low self-esteem and are easily influenced,” she said

To get around those influences, she said she follows her own mind. When asked how she would handle someone trying to influence her or pressure her to do something she is not ready to do, she said, “I’d probably slap them.”

She listens to hip-hop, and she does have friends who are not only sexually active but teenage parents.

Two young men voiced their opinions and shared their experiences without hesitation. “I don’t think it influences me,” 17-year-old Devontea said. “I just don’t pay attention to it. I just continue going to school so I can be successful. I think a person should wait until they get married before having sex,” he added. “But it ain’t going to be like that because it has always been, by the time you’re a teenager, that’s when [kids] start having sex because of the way they were raised. They weren’t raised right. It all depends on the type of family that raised you.”

Devontea admitted to being sexually active, starting at age 14.

“I do have sex,” he said, “but people should wait. I was 14, and it was with someone older than me.” The relationship, he said, lasted about a year. His advice to anyone being pressured by someone to do something they don’t want to do: “Get away from them.”

Echoing Devontea’s comments, Lavone, 17, said, “I don’t really think [hip-hop] influences them because everyone has their own mind, and they think what they want to think, unless they let the music videos influence them. They’re just making their money. That’s what they do for a living, so they have to do that.”

He admitted to becoming sexually active at age 11 but said a person should be at least 17 before deciding to have sex. Although he didn’t want to do it, he gave in when a 14-year-old girl seduced him. When asked why he did it, he said, “Because I didn’t want to seem like I was scared.”

Both young men said they practice safe sex. “I got condoms in my pocket right now,” Lavone said. “I get checked out every two months,” Davontea chimed in.

Several decades ago, parents warned their teens against pre-marital sex due to the threat of an unwanted pregnancy. Today, pregnancy is the least of their concerns; out front is the risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports teens are among the age groups with the highest HIV infection rate. African-American and Latino teens are becoming infected at an alarmingly higher rate than others. CDC estimates approximately 50,000 people between the age of 10 and 24 are infected annually with HIV.

Diamond, 17, said she believes the music does influence young people to become sexually active.

“I think it encourages teens to get involve in sex at an early age because most of the songs are talking about sex. So when you go to parties and they are playing those songs, [then] after parties, you never know what kids might want to do.” She thinks teens should be at least 18 before becoming sexually active, and if someone is pressuring them to do something they don’t want to do, “They should slow down and don’t do it,” she added.

“Yes, I think the music influences teenagers to become involved in sex early,” Dominequa, 18, said. “Teens need to practice safe sex.”

When asked how she resists the influences, she admits she did succumb, and as a result, became pregnant at age 13. Initially, she tried to hide her pregnancy from her mother, but her mother found out and has remained supportive to this day. Dominequa now believes becoming a mother is one of the best things that happened to her because motherhood has helped her mature and develop a closer relationship with her mother.

As for resisting the influences, Dominequa said, “Just make your own decisions, and try to practice safe sex.”