Who’s the greatest influence on teens’ decisions about sex?

Stock image.

Use your voice.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy annually surveys teenagers and adults in our nation. The Campaign interviews teens and adults, asking them questions about sex, birth control, teen pregnancy, and related topics. The survey has two main goals. The first is to assess and report on American opinion concerning teen pregnancy and related issues. The second goal is to use the surveys as a helpful addition to the behavioral data collected by the federal government.

The latest data was collected in a report released in August 2012, titled “With One Voice 2012: America’s adults and teens sound off about teen pregnancy.” One of the questions asked on the survey was, “When it comes to your/teens’ decisions about sex, who is most influential?” The results show 38% of teens aged 12-19 say parents are the most influential people when it comes to their decisions about sex. Friends come in second place with 22%, the media is 9%, religious leaders and siblings tie for 6%, and 4% of teens said teachers and educators.

In a culture where teens are continually being exposed to sexual images in the media, it’s encouraging to know that parents still hold the most power when it comes to impacting teens’ choices about sex. These results are consistent with all of the previous National Campaign surveys. The report states that overall closeness between parents and their children, shared activities, parental presence in the home, and parenting caring and concern all are associated with a reduced risk of early sex and teen pregnancy. Teens who are close to their parents and feel supported by them are more likely to delay sex, have fewer sexual partners, and use contraception more consistently.

Another question posed to the teens and adults was, “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement? It would be much easier for teens to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents.” Eight-seven of teens age 12-19 and 90% of adults agreed with this statement. Although a majority of teens and adults agreed that it’s helpful for parents to talk with their children openly about sex, 90% of teens surveyed and 88% of adults believe that parents often don’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to start talking.

CNN Health published an article from the Mayo Clinic titled “Sex education: Talking to your teen about sex.” The article shares a truthful statement: “Sex education basics may be covered in health class, but your teen might not hear — or understand — everything he or she needs to know to make tough choices about sex. That’s where you come in. Awkward as it may be, sex education is a parent’s responsibility.” The article goes on to discuss ways parents can break the ice and bring up these topics. The author encourages parents to be honest and direct, to avoid lecturing, and to listen to their teens’ points of view. The article tells parent to reward their teens’ questions with affirming responses like “I’m glad you came to me.”

In a Focus on the Family article titled “Talking about Sex and Puberty,” parents are advised to not wait to tell their children everything they know about sex during a single intense marathon session. Focus on the Family believes that doing so risks either waiting until it’s too late or dumping more in the child’s lap than he can process. They suggest gradually releasing information during many conversations over a period of several years. If a child asks questions a parent can’t answer, parents should be honest and do research. Focus on the Family believes that parents will gain far more stature in their children’s eyes by showing candor than by bluffing.

Here are some other compelling statistics from the National Campaign’s survey:

  • Some 67% of teen girls and 53% often boys who have had sex wish they had waited longer.
  • Forty-four percent of respondents age 12-19 said they have not had sex.
  • Nine in 10 teens (91%) say they want to be married before they have/father a child.
  • About seven in 10 adults (68%) believe their community needs more efforts to prevent teen pregnancy.
  • Nearly nine in 10 adults and teens (89% and 90% respectively) say teen pregnancy is an important issue even when compared to other social and economic problems facing the country.

As pro-lifers who stand against abortion, we must remember to deal with the root issues that lead to thousands of terminations a day. National data shows that 3 out of every 10 U.S girls is pregnant at least once by the age of 20. Making birth control accessible to kids of all ages is not the great fix to this critical issue in our society. Rather, I think we must begin at home, with loving parents who teach their kids the benefits of abstinence before marriage and delaying sex. Children who lack supportive parents need teachers, mentors, religious leaders, and coaches who will listen and talk with them. The National Campaign to prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has a helpful document titled “Tips to help faith leaders and their communities address teen pregnancy.” As a youth leader, I make it a priority to talk with the teenagers in my church about these issues. We all can have a voice in these areas if we’re just willing to speak out.

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