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Where Do Kids Learn About Sex?

Birds, Bees, and Teens
By
WebMD Feature

June 11, 2001 -- Which factors matter most to teens deciding whether to become sexually active? Peer pressure? Media images? Education? Religious background? All play a role, but new research suggests parents may have the most influence of all.

 

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You may think they're tuning you out when the talk turns to birds and bees, but they're not, according to two studies released in April by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (NCPTP) that reinforce the role of parental advice and role-modeling in determining the sexual behavior of teens. In those studies, more teens, 38%, pointed to their parents as the biggest influence on their sexual behavior -- more than friends, the media, educators, siblings, or religious organizations.

 

In recognition of this, the organization urges parents to engage their children "early and often in discussions of sex, love, relationships, and values."

 

"A lot of parents wonder when to have 'the talk' with their kids," says Ingrid Sanden of NCPTP. "The answer is never. You have to create an environment where your kids feel comfortable coming to you when they need answers, and that means keeping things open from the time your kids are old enough to understand."

 

Both mom and dad need to start the dialogue early and keep the lines of communication open, she says. Many parents who are otherwise fearless when it comes to keeping their children safe become cringing, tongue-tied cowards at the thought of talking to them about sex. But it may be one of the most important steps they can take to protect them.

 

Parents should also establish rules and standards of expected behavior, Sanden says. They should discourage frequent and steady dating among younger teens, take a strong stand against a daughter dating a significantly older boy or a son dating a much younger girl, and emphasize the value of education.

 

"Parents are really important in forming their kids' values," Sanden says. "It is strange to even have to say that, but so many parents feel that they are powerless, especially with teens."

One Million Teen Pregnancies Each Year

Although teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S. declined significantly during the 1990s, approximately 1 million American teenage girls still get pregnant each year. That is by far the highest rate of teen pregnancies of any industrialized nation -- and eight out of 10 are unplanned, according to NCPTP figures.

 

After rising 23% between 1972 and 1990, pregnancies among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 declined 17% between 1990 and 1996. The teen birth rate dropped by 20% between 1991 and 1999, to approximately 50 births per 1,000 young women.

 

So is the drop in teen pregnancies due to fewer adolescents having sex or to better contraception use among those who are sexually active?

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