With 1 million teens becoming pregnant and as many as 3 million acquiring a sexually transmitted disease each year, it is critically important for mothers and fathers to talk with their young people about issues of sex and sexuality.
Open communication with trusted adults helps young people develop responsible, positive attitudes and behaviors about sexuality. Research indicates teens are more likely to postpone initiation of sexual intercourse when they have discussed sexuality with their parents.
Moreover, teens who decide to become sexually active are more likely to use protection when their parents have discussed sexuality with them - and by age 18, more than 60 percent of young people are sexually active.
Sexuality is part of being human, as much and as normal a part of us as breathing and our gender. Young people get messages about sexuality everywhere they turn, from music videos and books, television, advertising and their friends.
Sex sells everything from athletic shoes to cars. Yet few of these subtle and not-so-subtle uses of sex convey positive values. Instead, they seem to promote thoughtless violence, sexual risk-taking and exploitation of others. Where are young people to learn about values such as responsible behavior, concern for the well-being of others and caring about themselves? One very effective source is parents, of course.
Many children prefer to learn about sexuality from their parents. Parents are frequently worried and uncomfortable about initiating such discussions. They fear discussing sexuality will encourage young people to be sexually active or are anxious about the appropriate amount and type of information to share.
The good news is that research has shown sexuality and HIV education do not cause young people to have sex earlier or more often. In short, telling your kids about sex will not encourage them to have sex.
In fact, studies have shown sexuality and HIV education programs in schools increase the level of communication between parents and their high school students on the subjects of abstinence and contraception. At the same time, a recent study of New York high schools shows making condoms available did not increase sexual activity but did improve condom use among sexually active teens.
Parents can do much to support their young people. Fathers need to make a special effort to talk with their sons about sex. Currently, mother-daughter communication is likely to include more information on sexual health issues than is father-son communication.
Father-daughter communication about sexuality, while infrequent, still exceeds father-son communication on the same issues. Young men must not be left out. Fathers can take more responsibility for providing information and values to their sons.
Parents need support, information and encouragement to become effective sexuality educators of their own children. Faith communities, media, businesses, schools and community organizations can provide activities, resources and information to help parents and guardians prepare today’s young people to become healthy adults and the parents of tomorrow’s children.
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