Interviews prove it again: Teens want parents' input

November 29, 2005

Talk to your teenagers about sex, even if you feel they're not listening. They may not always do what you'd like them to do, but they do hear what you say.

That's the message that was conveyed - again - in Herald-Mail reporter Tiffany Arnold's Monday story based on interviews with 16 young women, aged 14 to 18, from Washington County.

Ten of the young women said they were sexually active. More than half said their parents were unaware of what they were doing.

Those engaging in risky, unprotected sex, including oral sex, said they knew that they learned in Family Life classes that they could get a sexually transmitted diseases, but did it anyway.


The dangerous belief that "It can't happen to me" is still leading teens to take risks they know they shouldn't take.

Arnold's survey of teens was a series of informal interviews and not a scientific study, but it mirrors the findings in a September report based on a much larger batch of interviews.

The report was done by Shattuck & Associates of Mount Airy, Md., over several days at the Valley Mall. During that time, 288 teens and 151 parents were asked questions about sex and their families.

Despite the difference in the number of interviews conducted, Arnold and Shattuck found much the same thing - that parents don't want their children engaging in risky behavior, but are uncomfortable having a detailed discussion about sex.

Only 8 percent of the parents interviewed by Shattuck said they "rarely" had a conversation about sex. Teens interviewed put that "rarely" figure at 47 percent.

Why the difference? Because, as Arnold's interviews showed, many parents believe that they've had a conversation if they say, "Don't get pregnant. Sex is bad."

Teens want more than slogans. They want someone they trust such as their parents to tell them why it makes sense to wait until they're older or married to have sex.

The best arguments for that will go beyond the physical dangers, although those are of great importance.

In June 2003, the Heritage Foundation reported on a study done based on responses from 6,500 adolescents funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and 17 other federal agencies.

It found that sexually active young men and women are more likely to be depressed than those not having sex.

Researchers Robert E. Rector, Kirk A. Johnson, Ph.D. and Lauren R. Noyes found that "in addition to its role in promoting teen pregnancy and the current epidemic of STDs, early sexual activity is a substantial factor in undermining the emotional well-being of American teenagers."

Why is this so? Because, the researchers said, "human sexual relationships are predominantly emotional and moral rather than physical ... "

At a time when teens are still working out what they believe and are often financially unable to commit to their partners, it makes sense that sex would be a source of stress.

One of the best arguments parents can make for delaying sex is that those who wait will be happier if they don't take on the emotional stress of sexual activity too soon.

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