Parents Influence Teen Sexual Decisions
Special Report - November 13, 2009
Parental involvement heavily influences whether adolescents will become sexually active before age 16. A November 2009 Research Brief from Child Trends looked at associations between parenting practices before adolescents become sexually active and the probability of teens having a sexual experience by age 16. According to the report, “positive parent-adolescent relationship quality, high parental awareness and monitoring, and family dinner routines” contribute to “delayed sex among teens.”
According to two recent national polls of teens and adults, including parents of teens, noted in the Child Trends report, nearly half of the 12-19-year-olds surveyed said that parents are “most influential when it comes to teens’ decision about sex.” Almost 60 percent of 12-14 year olds indicated that parents have the greatest influence on their decisions about sex. In contrast, only 34 percent of parents who have adolescent children thought that parents have the most influence over teens’ decisions about sex.
The Child Trends report also noted that girls’ relationship quality with both their mother and father impact their likelihood of becoming sexually active early in adolescence. Girls who report a high quality relationship with their father are the least likely to have had a sexual experience by age 16 (21 percent). Meanwhile, girls who report a low quality relationship with both parents are most likely to be sexually active by age 16 (37 percent). The report points out that “these findings, and those of other researchers, suggest that fathers may have just as important a role to play as mothers in helping their teenage daughters make responsible decisions about sex.”
The report also found that “Parents can help protect against risky sexual behaviors among their teenage children by getting to know their teens’ friends and being aware of their teens’ activities and whereabouts when they are not at home.” On average, girls report a higher awareness among their parents of their whereabouts and friends than do boys. Girls whose parents have a low awareness level of their daughter’s activities when she is away from home are nearly twice as likely (43 percent) as girls whose parents have a high awareness level (22 percent) to have had sex by age 16. The difference among boys while not as dramatic as the girls is still high30 percent of boys whose parents are highly aware of their activities versus 43 percent of those whose parents have a low awareness level.
According to the report, adolescent boys benefit the most from family dinner time. Of the 46 percent of boys who report having family dinners seven days a week, 31 percent of them are sexually active by age 16, compared to 37 percent of their peers who report family dinners less than 4 times per week.
“Programs designed to delay sexual activity and/or other risky behaviors can help improve outcomes for adolescents by encouraging them and their parents to engage in routine family interactions and activities,” the report states. Such interactions and activities can help to delay first sexual experiences among adolescents, since “Early adolescent sexual experience is linked with a variety of risky outcomes, including acquiring a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and having an unintended pregnancy.” According to the report, these programs “may benefit from including or enhancing parental involvement in their offerings.” However, it also warns that parental involvement in sex education needs to “go beyond the typical discussions about the ‘sex talk’ to a serious exploration of parenting practices associated with less sexual risk-taking by adolescents.”
“While some North Carolina legislators have spent a decade looking for ways to undermine and do away with Abstinence-Until-Marriage (AUM) education as the wisest and healthiest standard for our students, the final version of the bill in 2009 took a very hands-off approach to promoting parental involvement as an important component to addressing risky sexual behavior among our youth,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “The final changes, which added more contraceptive-focused material to the curriculum, also eliminated some of the opportunities for parents to be actively engaged in knowing and choosing what their children will be taught in school about sex. This report reinforces the need for parents to be active participants in their children’s decisions about sex, rather than bystanders handing that responsibility over to the school system.”
Copyright © 2009. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.