The 'Big Talk' Isn't Enough
When it comes to sex, teens want to get their parents' views
SATURDAY, Feb. 16, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- OK, moms and dads, try this quick child-rearing quiz: When it comes to sex, your teens want to learn the details from:
a.) their friends.
b.) the latest Leonardo DiCaprio movie.
You'd probably be stunned to learn the right answer is "c" -- at least according to a recent national survey of more than 2,000 teens and their parents.
"This may surprise a lot of parents who fear that, when it comes to sex, they have lost their children to peers and popular culture," says Bill Albert, director of communications and publications at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "But the simple message from the study is that, whether parents believe it or not, teens want to hear from them about sex, intimacy and relationships."
"Our survey clearly shows that parents have an incredibly important role when it comes to their children's sexual decision-making," Albert adds.
The study also found that:
- 93 percent of the teens and 95 percent of the parents said it's important that teen-agers be given a "strong abstinence message from society" -- which includes their schools, their doctors and influential adults in their lives. At the same time, six out of 10 teens believe they should have information about -- and access to -- contraception.
- Eight out of 10 teens said they felt pressure to have sex. But a gender divide clearly exists. Teen-age girls said they felt pressure mostly from their partners, while teen-age boys overwhelmingly said they felt pressure from their friends.
- Teens don't have an accurate picture of their peers' sexual behavior. More than half the teens -- 54 percent -- overestimated the percentage of high school students who've had sex. This is significant, Albert says, because teens who believe their friends are having sex are more likely to have sex themselves.
- Discussing abstinence while also providing teens with information about contraception is not a "mixed message," according to 74 percent of the teens and 70 percent of the adults.
Despite recent declines in its teen pregnancy rate, the United States still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among developed nations: Four out of 10 girls get pregnant before age 20, studies show.
These figures clearly indicate that the messages parents are giving their children are inadequate -- too little information, too late, Albert says. So when should parents start talking to their kids about sex? And what should they say?
"There's no magic number in terms of age, but the reality is, if your child's body has physically matured, chances are good they're also having sexual thoughts and feelings," says Dr. Jonathan D. Klein, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescent medicine.
And contrary to popular belief, talking to teens about sex shouldn't be a one-shot event.
"Parents should forgo having 'the big talk' and instead have ongoing discussions about sex with their children," says Klein.
Parents should also enlist the help of their child's doctor. A family doctor or pediatrician can provide parents with guidance on when to broach the subject of sex, and how to have effective discussions.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new guidelines on sex education for children and adolescents. The guidelines note that pediatricians are in an ideal position to provide sex education and information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, while offering advice and support to parents.
When talking to teens, Klein offers these suggestions to ensure effective discussions:
- Be clear about your family's values and morals.
- Be honest and let your teen know that you're available to answer any and all questions.
- Be approachable and open-minded, even if you disagree with your child's viewpoint.
- Use appropriate terminology and avoid slang expressions for anatomy, masturbation and other sexual matters.
- Utilize sources in your community, including the library, videos, books and brochures. Remember to preview materials before giving them to your child.
What to Do: To learn more about how to talk to your children about sex, try the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, or the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.