STD prevention can, and should, start in elementary school — but not by distributing condoms or teaching explicit sex ed. Data from the University of Washington looked at risk factors from early in life that predicted a higher number of STDs during the later teen years. There have been many correlations drawn between early sexual debut (the definition of “early” in this study was before age 15) and higher numbers of sexual partners as well as higher numbers of STDs. According the article, “Of youth in the study who became sexually active before age 15, more – about a third – had an STD compared with about 16 percent of those who were older when they started having sex.”
Correlations were also found between youth who grew up in well-managed households with rules, discipline and rewards and later sexual debut. Students who were engaged in school and had positive feelings towards school and their teachers were also less likely to have sex early, as well as students whose friends did not get into trouble. So the secret ingredients to STD prevention (or, some of them, anyway) seem to be a positive, well-managed home environment, strong school engagement, and friends who have a positive influence. Not a huge surprise to those who work with youth, but helpful information nonetheless.
What can YOU do? If you are a parent, continue to learn about positive models of discipline, and don’t shy away from the tough battles during the early teen years. Some of the critical years looked at in the study were ages 10-14. Also, try to find support from one or two other parents who can encourage you in your disciplinary efforts. Raising teens is HARD. You’ll need friends who can act as both coach and cheerleader to make your job a *little* easier.
If you are NOT a parent, look for ways to support positive youth development in your community. Support local schools, volunteer with after school programs, or simply be a friendly, encouraging face to the teens bagging your groceries.
And if you have influence in the community or local school system, support programs that encourage early family engagement and youth development — as early as elementary school. Find ways to encourage teachers and administrators to create positive school environments and fund efforts at early intervention. The earliest STD prevention may look nothing at all like sex education, but if you can help families start off on the right foot and get students engaged in school, it makes a difference!