What’s a parent to do?

One of our previous posts pointed out that teens themselves say that parents greatly influence their sexual decision-making. But did you know that the same study showed that we parents don’t think we’re that influential? Perhaps we can’t think of ways that we DO make a difference. It might help to see the risk factors our kids face that are under our control or influence. Consider this partial list below, from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. A “+” means something that helps our kids be abstinent, and a “–“ is something that encourages sexual activity.

Positive family dynamics and attachment
+ Higher quality family interactions, connectedness & relationship satisfaction
+ Greater parental supervision and monitoring
+ Greater parent/child communication about sex
+ Parental disapproval of premarital sex or teen sex

Sexual beliefs, attitudes and skills
– More permissive attitudes toward premarital sex
– Perceiving more personal and social benefits (than costs) of having sex
+ Taking a virginity pledge
+ Greater perceived negative consequences of pregnancy
+ Greater motivation to avoid pregnancy, HIV and other STD

Relationships with romantic partners and previous sexual behaviors
– Dating more frequently
– Going steady, having a close relationship
– Ever kissed or necked

Attachment to and success in school
+ Greater connectedness to school
+ High educational aspirations and plans for the future

Attachment to faith communities
+ Having a religious affiliation
+ More frequent religious attendance

I can think of a few applications. We need to talk to our kids more…in positive ways (isn’t it easy to just get into “correction” mode?). We need to be able to talk about sex and dating, to communicate our disapproval of premarital sex while pointing out the negative consequences. We need to help our kids see that even kissing can “light a fire” so to speak, and encourage our teens who are dating to go slow and not get too serious. We will at times have to be “parental” by setting some rules, such as “no you can’t date at 13,” and “no one of the opposite sex in the house when we’re gone”. Finally, we can help them believe in who they will become by helping them set goals for the future and by encouraging attendance at religious services if that is part of your family tradition.