By Louise Hajjar Diamond
Most parents would agree that they don't want their middle or high schoolers to become sexually active. Teen sex can pose irreversible consequences including significant health risks, social and emotional effects, and pregnancy. Sexually active girls are predisposed to genital track infections, cervical cancer and pre-cancerous lesions. For boys, unprotected intercourse increases the chances of prostate and urethral infections.
Both girls and boys who have sex put themselves at risk for sexually transmitted disease. Sexually transmitted diseases acquired during the teenage years can contribute to adult infertility. AIDS remains a leading cause of death during adolescence.
Although teen pregnancy has been declining steadily over the last decade, and more teens are delaying having sex, teen sexual activity contributes to medical, social, and economic problems in our nation. As reported by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, four in ten teenage girls gets pregnant at least once before the age of twenty, resulting in 900,000 teen pregnancies a year.
The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate of all the industrialized countries in the world by a wide margin. Children born to teenage parents are at higher risk for health problems, poor school performance, inadequate parenting, poverty, and child abuse. By contrast, in families where mothers were in the early twenties, the rate for child abuse is less than half of those than in families of a teenage birth. Each year the federal government spends about $40 billion to assist families that began with a teenage birth.
Parents have a responsibility to their children to take an active role in teaching them about the consequences of sex. It is a crucial aspect of parenting that can make the difference between quality of life and even life and death. It is dangerous for parents to assume that their kids understand sexual consequences. It can also be harmful for parents to assume that their kids understand their disapproval of them becoming sexually active. The reality is that parental influence is the biggest factor regarding whether their kids will have sex during the teen years.
In a study published in September 2002, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that teenagers are less likely to start having sex when their mothers are deeply involved in their children's lives and successfully communicate their values on sex with their kids. The study was national and longitudinal, conducting sensitive interviews with several thousand mothers and adolescents separately. Robert Blum, MD, Ph.D., professor and director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development authored the study.
According to the study's findings, when teens perceive that their mothers oppose them having sex, they are less likely to do so. Connectedness proved to be more important to kids than what mother mothers said. In the study, "connectedness' means, how close teens feel to their mothers, how much they feel mother cares for them and how warm and loving mother is, and how good communication is with their mother. The amount of satisfaction a teen feels toward her relationship with her mom is also crucial.
When mothers recommended birth control to their teens, kids were less likely to perceive their mothers' disapproval of them having sex. The study showed that when mothers reported feeling satisfied with their relationships with their 14 and 15 year-old daughters, their daughters were less likely to report having intercourse.
Dr. Blum notes, "kids will pay attention to their parents' values on sex." He continues that "talk alone does not get the message through." Being actively involved in the lives of their daughters, is another way moms may help preventing early sex. Mothers seem to have more of an influence delaying their daughters from having sex than their sons. Boys may be more influenced by fathers, siblings, and peers on the timing of first intercourse.
What Parents Can Do
Too many parents believe they simply can't make the difference in their kids' choices during the teen years. According to this new research, this view couldn't be further from the truth. The reality is that during adolescence, our children need as much guidance, as they needed in earlier years. Teens face potentially life-altering choices in their daily lives. Two-thirds of teens that have sex, end up wishing they had waited. Many parents who feel comfortable talking with their kids about other dangers, like drugs, drinking, and smoking, avoid or minimize educating their kids on sexual facts and values.
In the context of a loving, supportive relationship, parents need to communicate clearly to their kids that they disapprove of them having sex. Placing a high premium on education and self-worth may empower kids to have confidence and to set goals for the future. Girls with high self-esteem and who feel accepted at home are less likely to have sex. If they have positive and meaningful relationships with a parent, they are less likely to seek acceptance elsewhere, such as in a sexual relationship with a boyfriend.
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy suggests for parents to be clear about their own sexual values and attitudes and tell them to your children. Start talking to kids about sex and love at and early age and to be specific. Establish curfews, rules, and standards of behaviors for your young teens. Always know the whereabouts and company of your children. Discourage early, frequent and steady dating. Know what your kids are reading, watching, and listening to. Know your children's friends and their families.
As will all aspects of parenting, there are no guarantees of outcomes. It should be comforting to parents to know their close relationship and connectedness they have with their kids might help to prevent destructive choices during the teen years. Through effective communication, example, and guidance, parents can make a crucial difference in their kids' important decisions. By promoting education, being involved, and knowing their kids' friends and whereabouts, parents can promote teen sexual abstinence.
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