Ann Naragon, Ph.D.

Ann Naragon Ph.D.

Making the Grade

Is It Just Puppy Love?

Specific parenting practices may delay teens’ sexual activity

Posted Nov 01, 2010

Puppy Love

"Absolutely no dating until you are at least 30 years old!"

"You can only date someone whom I approve of and only after I have completed a full background check!"

"Your dates must be in public places and you are to be accompanied by the SWAT team!"

"And don't even think about having sex until you are married!!!!"

Do these statements sound familiar? Do you think they are effective?

News flash: Forcing teens into dating exile by controlling all interactions they have with their significant others or Rapunzel-ing them away in a tower, secluding them from all other life forms, is counterproductive!

Below are statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (2004) outlining trends in teenage dating. The statistics suggest that teens are delaying their sexual initiation, not readily acting on their puppy love.

• 46% of teens between 15-19 years of age indicated that they have had sex at least once.
• Sexual initiation for the average male begins at age 17 and at age 17.6 for the average female.
• Between 1995 and 2002, the percentage of adolescents who have had sex declined from 49% to 46% in females and from 55% to 46% in males.


In a longitudinal study conducted by Monica Longmore, Abbey Eng, Peggy Giordano, and Wendy Manning (2009), the researchers considered how parenting practices affected teens' sexual initiation. Their study revealed that parental practices conveying caring attitudes and unconditional love were associated with an increased likelihood that teens, who had not yet engaged in sexual activity at the time of the study, would not initiate sexual activity during the next 12 month period. Continually asserting parental controls, "Absolutely no dating until you are at least 30 years old!" was negatively associated with delaying sexual initiation. Although parental monitoring, "You can only date someone whom I approve of and only after I have completed a full background check!" can be effective in terms of policing teens' sexual activity, excessively monitoring teens' behaviors increased disagreements between teens and parents. Since teens who reported frequent arguments with parents concerning dating rights were more likely to initiate sexual activity, the researchers concluded that teens may have rebelled against their parents and engaged in sexual activity despite their parents' desires.

So before you let the butterflies creep into your stomach after thinking about what thoughts could be fluttering through your love sick teen's mind, consider having a conversation with your teen about your expectations and rules regarding dating. It is important for you to let your teen know that she must always feel respected both physically and emotionally by her significant other. Make sure that you are actively listening to your teen's thoughts and above all else, convey to your teen that you will always be willing to lend an ear to listen to her concerns, a shoulder to cry on, and most importantly, your heart to comfort her with unconditional love.

References Cited:
Alan Guttmacher Institute. (2004). U.S. teenage pregnancy statistics. New York: Author.
Longmore, M.A., Eng, A.L., Giordano, P.C., & Manning, W.D. (2009). Parenting and adolescents' sexual initiation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, 969-982.

Copyright Ann L. Naragon, Ph.D.  2010