Parents can play a crucial role when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy, talking about sex and affecting their teen’s contraceptive choices. And believe it or not, one of the most important (and probably easiest) things a parent can do is to just pay attention.
Research has suggested that teens who feel that their parents pay attention to them and support their choices are more likely to delay having sex, use contraception more consistently, have fewer sexual partners or abstain from sexual activity altogether. In fact, when teens were asked what they most needed from their parents when it came to making smart sexual decisions, an overwhelming amount responded that they just wished their parents had paid more attention to them. So parents:
Pay Attention to Your Teen
You should know that monitoring and supervising your teen’s behavior does make a difference. Unfortunately, parents may only start to pay attention after their teen is in trouble or has done something wrong. Be proactive. Try to reward your teen for making good decisions or doing the right thing. Teens need encouragement, support and attention. Make it a point to have discussions about your son/daughter’s friends, school, gossip, interests and fears. Make sure you attend their functions (games, recitals, curriculum night, etc.) and show them how much you care about what is going on in their lives.
Another way to pay attention ... try not to leave your teens alone a lot. Some teens have actually admitted they have sex because they are bored. You can try to prevent this by planning after-school activities if you can’t be home and to make sure your teen is hanging out in places where there is adult supervision. Monitor "the four W's": who, what, when and where. Establish rules, curfews and standards of expected behavior, preferably through open family discussions. Given that your teen’s friends can have a strong influence on him/her, help your teen become friends with teens whose families share your values and rules. Welcome your teen's friends into your home and, if you have the opportunity, talk to them openly as well.
Research shows that teens who have parental supervision and good communication with their parents around sexual health issues are more likely to display responsible behavior. When parents pay attention to their teen’s needs and openly discuss sexuality and sex, teens tend to have a greater awareness of the risks and consequences of sexually transmitted infections and make better sexual decisions.
Data also show that teens who feel they are in families where parents pay attention and communicate with them are less likely to engage in sexual activity. One study revealed that 45% of teens chose their parents as being their sexual-role model; those teens who identified their parents as most affecting their sexual decisions came from families where:
- There was positive and frequent communication about sexual issues
- Favorable attitudes toward abstinence
- Teens felt comfortable talking about sex with parents
- Parents supervised, supported and paid attention to their teen's needs
These teens also tended to be less sexually active, have only occasional partners or delayed their first sexual experience.
Another important piece of this equation has to do with fathers. Though a 2011 poll revealed that fathers were now taking almost as active a role in talking about sex as mothers, research is clear that a lack of involvement of communication with fathers can be especially detrimental when it comes to a teen’s sexual decisions – so dads, you need to pay attention and support your teens as well!
Even though it is essential that you pay attention to your teen, know who his/her friends are and communicate and be involved in their lives. Don’t make the common mistake of thinking that you will know when your teen is having sex. The reality of the situation is that most parents are completely in the dark about this and do not realize when their teen has begun to be sexually active. In fact, about 50% of parents are unaware that their sons and daughters (8th to 11th grade) had started to have sex. It seems that mothers tend to underestimate their teen’s sexual behavior and teens tend to underestimate their mother’s level of disapproval of their engaging in sexual activity. Approximately 30% of girls and 50% of boys do not believe their mom disapproves of their having sex even though mothers tell them that they do.
However, teens who are in a close relationship with their mothers and feel that their moms are paying attention to them will more accurately perceive their mother’s disapproval and be more likely to delay having sex. Also, keep in mind that even though parents typically underestimate the behaviors their children are involved in, when they do talk about issues like sex and dating, they usually focus on their own concerns (such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases) -- these may not be the issues that are most important to teens.
It also should be pointed out that teens who report more satisfaction in their relationship with their mothers are less likely to report having sex in the subsequent year, more likely to have used contraception the last time they had sex and are less likely to get pregnant. So, try to routinely express concern and love for your teen, establish high expectations for school, enforce rules and regulations and have meals together. But don’t go overboard! If you are too controlling or strict, your teen may rebel, as this type of parenting style is associated with a greater risk of teen pregnancy.
Finally, you should pay especially close attention to your teen if he/she has an older sibling who is having sex; teens in this environment are more likely to engage in sex at an earlier age. Additionally, teens who live in single-parent families, abusive homes and/or live in neighborhoods characterized by poverty, unemployment and higher crime rates tend to be more likely to be sexually active (and at an earlier age); to not consistently use contraception; and to experience teen pregnancy. So, parents of teens who fit these categories should try extra hard to supervise, monitor and pay attention to what your teens are doing.
That being said, remember that a parent’s best line of defense when it comes to their teen’s sexual decisions is the closeness and quality of the parent/teen relationship. To use this to your best advantage, pay attention to your teens by:
- Clearly communicating your values, expectations and rules
- Convey concern, respect and love for your teen early and often
- Supervise and monitor your teen — including his/her selection of friends, role models, what they are watching, reading and listening to
- Be involved in your teen’s life
Blum, R.W. (2002). "Mothers’ influence on teen sex: Connections that promote postponing sexual intercourse.” Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota. Minneapolis, MN. Accessed 11/2011.
Veilleux Lemieux M, Frappier J-Y, McDuff P. “Parent-adolescent communication, role model in sexuality and their impact of sexual health of teens.” J Adolescent Health. 2010. 46: S38-39. Accessed via private subscription.