Parents Matter to Teen Decisions About Sex
Special Report - October 17, 2008
Parents have the strongest influence on adolescent decisions about sex, and sex education programs and policies must encourage and strengthen parental involvement to be effective, according to a new “Backgrounder” report from The Heritage Foundation. Written by Heritage policy analyst Christine Kim, “Teen Sex: The Parent Factor,” notes that while two-thirds of 12th graders in the United States report engaging in sexual activity, 60 percent of these teens say they regret their first sexual encounter and wish they had waited. While comprehensive sex education (CSE) advocates argue that the answer to the high rates of sexual activity among teens is to give them greater access to contraception, Kim points out that these programs often ignore the influence of parents, who “have the most influence on their children’s decisions about sex.” According to Kim, surveys show that two-thirds of teenagers say they share their parents’ values about sex, and social science research has found that the following factors “appear to offer the strongest protection against the onset of early sexual activity”: intact family structure (two-parent married families offer the most protection); parental disapproval of adolescent sexual activity; a teen’s sense of belonging to and satisfaction with families; parental monitoring of teen activities; and parent-child communication about sex and its consequences.
Kim argues that sex education programs and policies should include components that “encourage and strengthen family structure and parental involvement,” including lessons on building health marriages. She urges policy makers to “oppose programs and policies that implicitly or explicitly discourage parental involvement, such as dispensing contraceptives to adolescents without parental consent or notice.” These programs, Kim writes, “are clearly contrary to the weight of social science evidence and might weaken a demonstrated protective influence against early teen sexual activity and related outcomes.”
“Parents are the most effective health education teacher a child will ever have, and mom and dad have the power to shape their child’s future decisions about sexual activity for better or for worse,” says Matt Lytle, director of research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “Unlike CSE programswhich often undermine the influence of parents in their rush to promote contraceptionauthentic abstinence-until-marriage education programs work with parents in their efforts to reach teens with the message that sex is sacred and worth the wait, and that teens have the ability to postpone sexual activity until marriage.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.