Give Your Teen Facts About Sex
Tanis Exner didn't wait for TV, teachers or playground friends to teach her 8-year-old daughter, Jenelle, about sex. Exner began sex education, as she says, "from the beginning."
"We did not leave out body parts when we taught her about her body," she says. "We thought her vagina was as important as her nose or her feet."
For parents like Exner who are worried that their children will experiment with sex at too young an age, research shows that this approach is the best one.
A national survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now found that kids whose parents are more open in their discussions about sex and sexuality are less likely to become sexually active at a young age. The idea is that children who feel they can approach their parents with questions will get factual information and feel less compelled to seek out answers through their own experiences.
Exner says she learned the hard way and won't let her daughter do the same. "I learned about sex from my unreliable friends and ended up a teen mum because I knew nothing of birth control," she says. "I did not want my own daughter growing up ashamed of her body and ignorant of the facts."
What Kids Do
Media coverage of the teen pregnancy rate in the United States has thrust the issue into the spotlight – and the numbers are a combination of good and bad news.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit research group, the U.S. pregnancy rate among girls ages 15 to 19 dropped 17 percent from 1990 to 1996 from 117 births per 1,000 girls to 97 births per 1,000 girls. After a near crisis in the number of teen pregnancies in the 1980s, this was a sign of progress, a sign that some effort or combination of efforts was convincing teens to avoid early parenthood.
After the teenage pregnancy rate began making headlines, educators, parents and teens alike mounted campaigns to reduce the number of girls facing the prospect of motherhood before even reaching their 20s. This sparked a nationwide debate as different interest groups battled over the best solution: abstinence or contraception.
National surveys suggest the drop in the teen pregnancy rate can be attributed to both an increase in abstinence and contraception use among teenagers. However, the Guttmacher Institute has suggested that about 80 percent of the decrease is due to increased – and correct – contraception use, leaving "just say no" advocates to claim the remaining 20 percent of the good news.
Though the situation appears to be improving, placing the teen pregnancy rate in proper context reveals a reality that still leaves much to be desired. Sex is rare among very young teens, but quite common in later adolescence. And the harsh truth remains: The United States has a teen pregnancy rate twice that of England, Wales or Canada and nine times as high as the Netherlands or Japan.
What Will Your Kid Do?
The reality is that most teens will have sex. In fact, it's estimated that only one in five children will not have sex while in their teens. And a sexually-active teen who does not use contraception has a startling 90 percent chance of becoming pregnant within one year. Given this information, parents are being encouraged to arm their children with facts, so that whatever a teen's decision, it will be an informed one.
Becoming Your Child's Ally
Tackling this issue with your child isn't an easy thing to do, and the fear of creating an uncomfortable situation can close the lines of communication. Talking With Kids About Tough Issues has compiled a set of guidelines to help parents ease into an honest dialogue about sex, encouraging parents to talk with their kids openly, honestly and frequently.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now, the following tips can help you talk with your child about sex:
- Explore your own attitudes.
- Take the initiative.
- Be specific.
- Talk in age-appropriate terms.
- Talk about values.
- Talk to your child of the opposite sex.
Misty Schaefer's daughter is only 4 months old, but she already knows the value of an open relationship with her child. "I want my child to feel she can come to me with any situation, and we will handle it together," says Schaefer. "I think if you open the door to the dreadful 'sex' talk, that breaks the ice and says, 'Hey, it is OK to talk about this kind of stuff with my parents. They had these problems when they were my age.'"
And Exner says she'll give her daughter all the information she requests – even some she might not request. "I really resent the fact that my mother did not teach me anything," she says. "I will definitely teach [my daughter] that to abstain is best, but at the same time I will provide her with condoms and instructions on how to use them. While I would rather that she wait for sex, I will be realistic rather than blind."