By Stephen Gray Wallace, M.S. Ed.
Of the many potential downsides of early intimate sexual behavior among teens is the regret that often follows. Indeed, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the majority of young people who have had sex wish they had waited.
There are other problems to worry about as well, including the fact that a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control revealed that one in four teenage girls ages 14-19 has a sexually transmitted disease. Perhaps that’s not surprising given that psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, in her book You’re Teaching My Child What?, says that 34 percent of girls are sexually active by age fifteen and that by ninth grade 20 percent of teens have had oral sex.
Interestingly, new research from the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University points to changing gender roles in sexual behavior with teen girls 16 to 19 years old more likely than boys the same age to say they have ever participated in:
The short- and long-term consequences of such behavior are among the least understood outcomes of adolescent decision-making. One thing, however, is clear: parents who talk with teenagers about sex make a difference. For example, according to research from the national SADD organization (Students Against Destructive Decisions), more than half of teens whose parents provide a strong level of guidance say they avoid sexual activity (52 percent) compared with those whose parents do not (27 percent).
With patience and no small amount of courage, parents can help their children better understand the physical and emotional risks of sexual behavior, the responsibilities that come with mutually caring and respectful relationships, standards for acceptable behavior, and the role that alcohol and other drugs can play in impairing judgment when it comes to making decisions about sex. Learning self-control, even over powerful sexual urges, is an important part of psycho-social development. It teaches young people how to delay gratification and certainly not to seek it at the expense of someone else’s physical, emotional, or social well-being. More to the point, it is healthy for kids to postpone sexual activity until they are certain that they understand – and are ready to accept – all of the potential outcomes that can result.
So, what to say? Here are some conversation starters you might try with your teen.
These can be difficult conversations to have for sure. But with teen sexual behavior closely linked to unwanted pregnancies and high rates of sexually transmitted diseases – not to mention stress and depression (SADD) – parents have a vital role to play in guiding their children’s behavior. Maybe now is the time to seize that opportunity … before it’s gone.
Stephen Wallace, an associate research professor and director of the Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) at Susquehanna University, has broad experience as a school psychologist and adolescent/family counselor. He is also a senior advisor to SADD and director of counseling and counselor training at Cape Cod Sea Camps. For more information about Stephen’s work, please visit StephenGrayWallace.com.
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