Teens, Sex, and Power of Parents ; Study Finds Strong Impact of Moms on Adolescent Sexual Activity
Daniel B. Wood writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
Moms and dads everywhere, take heed. The once standard parent/ child rite of passage - "the birds and bees speech" - is on the way out.
When it comes to sex education, and whether adolescents become sexually active, parental guidance is most influential when it delivered with warmth, openness, and ongoing effort.
And to the surprise of many parents, such efforts are welcomed. While it may seem that youths are more attuned to peers, media, and pop culture, experts and teens alike say parents are needed as role models and cultivators of values in today's confusing, image- saturated culture.
"We have reclaimed the lost fact that parents matter to teens when it comes to teaching them about sexuality," says Robert Blum, coauthor of a report released Wednesday based on the largest-ever survey of adolescent sexual behavior. "Even as parents tend to think their influence is waning during the teen years, this shows there is a significant and ongoing effect."
Wednesday's report, part of an ongoing federal study of thousands of young people and their parents, focused especially on the guiding role of mothers. But researchers say the evidence makes a case, more broadly, for the benefits of strong parent-child relationships.
It comes against a backdrop of challenges and progress. As of 1995, when the survey was getting under way, 19 percent of girls and 21 percent of boys said they had sexual intercourse by age 14. The new report did not update those figures.
But Dr. Blum and others say that over the past decade, pregnancy rates among adolescents have dropped steadily. Rates of some key, sexually transmitted diseases have fallen 50 percent over the same time. The use of condoms is up, and more teenagers are delaying sexual activity. Yet there are still a million teen pregnancies a year, half of all new HIV infections occur in those under 25, and only half of sexually active teens report using condoms.
The growing consensus, say researchers: Parental discussions of such topics need to start earlier - as early as lower elementary school (in age-appropriate discussions) - and parents' actions speak louder than words in transmitting key values.
"At the broadest level, the most important message of this research is that parents matter," says Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
IN yesterday's report, researchers found that mothers who were actively engaged in the lives of their daughters - who knew their friends, and friends' parents, for example - significantly delayed early sexual activity by those daughters. Mothers generally felt more comfortable talking about sex with their sons than with their daughters, but their influence on sons' behavior was not as strong. …