The following is a post from Christopher A. Brown, Executive Vice President of National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI). Interested in blogging for us? Read our guest blog guidelines.
As the father of two teen girls (18 and 15), I’ve been focused on doing everything I can to ensure that they avoid sex until they’re adults and, ideally, until they’re married. My primary tactic is, quite simply, to be involved in their lives as much as possible and to love them unconditionally.
The reason I employ that tactic is not only because I believe in it, I know it’s critical based on research. We’ve known for decades that children who grow up without their fathers are, on average, more likely to become teen parents than are children who grow up with their two, biological, married parents.
A lot of recent research has focused on teens, primarily girls, who have sex with individuals several years older because, as this research shows, children who have sex with much older partners are at increased risk for risky sexual behavior (e.g. having unprotected sex) and poorer emotional health.
A recent report by Child Trends on the latest data on sexual activity among teens confirms these facts and reveals that this is not just an issue for girls, it’s also an issue for boys.
Among young people ages 18 to 24 in 2006-10, ten percent of females and six percent of males reported that their first sexual experience occurred at age 15 or younger with an individual who was three or more years older than they were (“statutory rape”). In terms of the impact of family structure:
- Male and female youth who were in a family with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 were less likely than their peers in other family types to report their first sexual encounter was a “statutory rape.”
- Among young males, four percent of those who lived with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 reported a “statutory rape” as their first sexual experience, compared with nine percent of males who lived in a step-family, 11 percent of males with a single mother or father, and 13 percent of males in other family structures.
- The pattern among females is similar, with those who were not living with two biological or adoptive parents at age 14 around three times more likely to have experience a “statutory rape” as their first sexual experience.
Whether you have a teen boy or a teen girl, it’s critical, especially if you are a single parent, to talk with your teen about avoiding sexual activity. There are too many land mines waiting for teens who have sex, especially with partners who are much older.
The good news is that parents have a lot of influence over their teens’ sexual behavior. In fact the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy notes that parents are the most influential factor in teens’ decisions about sex, love, and relationships.
So don’t allow your perception that your teen doesn’t listen to sway your decision about talking with him or her about sex. Another tactic I’ve used is to send a clear message to my girls, since they were very young, that I expect them to delay sex until they’re adults and, ideally, until they’re married. They’ve actually told me they’re glad to know what I expect.
The Mayo Clinic offers these 6 tips on how to talk with your teen about sex:
- Seize the moment. When a TV program or music video raises issues about responsible sexual behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion. Remember that everyday moments—such as riding in the car or putting away groceries—sometimes offer the best opportunities to talk.
- Be honest. If you're uncomfortable, say so—but explain that it's important to keep talking. If you don't know how to answer your teen's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
- Be direct. Clearly state your feelings about specific issues, such as oral sex and intercourse. Present the risks objectively, including emotional pain, sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancy. Explain that oral sex isn't a risk-free alternative to intercourse.
- Consider your teen's point of view. Don't lecture your teen or rely on scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. Instead, listen carefully. Understand your teen's pressures, challenges, and concerns.
- Move beyond the facts. Your teen needs accurate information about sex—but it's just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes, and values. Examine questions of ethics and responsibility in the context of your personal or religious beliefs.
- Invite more discussion. Let your teen know that it's okay to talk with you about sex whenever he or she has questions or concerns. Reward questions by saying, "I'm glad you came to me."