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How Moms Can Encourage Teen Abstinence

a guide to help parents talk to their kids about sex and choosing abstinence

According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), more than half of teenagers are virgins until they are at least 17 years of age, and by the time they reach the age of 20, 20 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls have not had sexual intercourse.

"The national decline in teens having sex reported by the CDC Teen Surveillance Study of 2001 from 54 percent to 45 percent means that more teens are choosing abstinence," says Bruce Cook, founder and president of Choosing the Best, a company in Atlanta, Ga., dedicated to abstinence education focused on the physical and emotional health aspects of sex. He is also the author of Parents, Teens and Sex: The Big Talk Book, a guide to help parents talk to their kids about sex and choosing abstinence.

Moms Have the Power of Persuasion

Information from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) shows that there are some things moms can do that may help delay sex among their teens in grades eight to 11. In the study, Add Health found that 88 percent of eighth and ninth graders and 80 percent of 10th and 11th graders said they were still virgins at the time of the second interview. In the 2002 study, 89 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls said they were still virgins a year later.

More specifically, the results showed the following:

  • High schooler (boys and girls) are likely to stay abstinent if they know their mothers strongly disapprove of premarital sex.
  • Boys and girls in eighth and ninth grades are likely to stay abstinent if they have warm, healthy relationships with their mothers. This was also true of boys in the 10th and 11th grades.
  • Girls in the eighth and ninth grades are likely to avoid sex if their mothers talk regularly with their friends' parents. This effect was not seen among boys in these grades, however.

According to Add Health, the information collected showed that it wasn't enough for mothers to simply warn their teens against having sex. Even with more than 80 percent of mothers in the survey saying they "strongly disapproved" of their teens being sexually active, 30 percent of the girls and 45 percent of the boys still didn't think their mothers felt that way.

"Some people feel that it's an inevitable thing that teens are going to have sex," says Dr. Marilyn Billingsly, associate professor of internal medicine and pediatrics at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "But abstinence is a realistic goal and is the only sure way to protect adolescents from STDs. First and foremost, parents should make sure that their own values are clearly communicated to their children."

"Research indicates that parents continue to be the greatest influence in teens choosing abstinence and eliminating the risk of STDs and pregnancy," says Cook. "The problem, quite often, is parents not knowing how to have a meaningful conversation with an adolescent who is sending all the negative signals of not wanting to talk."

Help Teens Avoid Sex: 10 Tactics

"Parents matter," says Bronwyn Mayden, executive director for Campaign For Our Children, a nonprofit, abstinence-based teen pregnancy prevention program in Baltimore, Md. "The values and beliefs we share with our kids matter. Our actions as role models matter. How we relate to our children matters."

Mayden offers these tips for parents:

  1. Get to know your children. It's hard to talk about sex with someone you never talk to. Research indicates that the more children are connected to parents the less likely they are to be engaged in early sexual activity.
  2. Begin early.
  3. Know your values. It is hard if you are unclear on where you stand on these issues. Kids want to know and want to know from their parents.
  4. Talk to your kids, early and often. One talk about the birds and the bees is not enough. As they grow and develop you will need to provide more specific information.
  5. Know your children's friends. Know what they are doing. Show an interest.
  6. Have high expectations about education for your child and communicate that to him. Kids with goals are less likely to become sexually active.
  7. Know who your child is dating. If he/she is several years older, you should be concerned and take a stand.
  8. Be media savvy. Watch some of the music videos; listen to the music that they are listening to. Discuss what they are seeing and hearing and help your teen to understand that many are sending the wrong message.
  9. Make sure your child has regular health exams. Doctors can also provide advice and guidance for teens about sexuality issues.
  10. Encourage your teen to be involved in recreational pursuits.

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