A recent study has pointed out that parents often underestimate their children's interest in sex but on the same lines imagine that everyone else's kids are interested in intimacy and sex.
"Parents I interviewed had a very hard time thinking about their own teen children as sexually desiring subjects," said Dr. Sinikka Elliott, an assistant professor of sociology at NC State and author of the study.
"At the same time, parents view their teens' peers as highly sexual, even sexually predatory," Elliott added.
By taking this stance, the parents shift the responsibility for potential sexual activity to others - attributing any such behavior to peer pressure, coercion or even entrapment.
For example, Elliott says, parents of teenage boys were often concerned that their sons may be lured into sexual situations by teenage girls who, the parents felt, may use sex in an effort to solidify a relationship.
The parents of teenage girls, meanwhile, expressed fears that their daughters would be taken advantage of by sexually driven teenage boys.
These beliefs contribute to stereotypes of sexual behavior that aren't helpful to parents or kids.
"By using sexual stereotypes to absolve their children of responsibility for sexual activity, the parents effectively reinforce those same stereotypes," Elliott said.
Parents' use of these stereotypes also paints teen heterosexual relationships in an unflattering, adversarial light, Elliott said and noted the irony of this: "Although parents assume their kids are heterosexual, they don't make heterosexual relationships sound very appealing."
The study has been published in the May issue of Symbolic Interaction.