– Gail Elizabeth Wyatt, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, UCLA professor
Most parents know that there are a number of factors that weigh into whether their child will have sex at a young age. But few parents may realize just how powerful those factors are. A new study sheds some light…
One reason young teens have sex is low self-esteem.
“They were using me. They were using me because I was easy. I was easy to get in bed,” says Katlyn, 16.
Another reason is the influence of the media.
“I think for some people they’ll just see it and they’ll just do it because it’s on TV and you know, it’s casual,” says Christina, 17.
Another factor is how close children are to their parents. According to a study from the University of Wisconsin, the more risk factors a child has, the more likely that child will have sex before age 15. These risk factors include watching excessive amounts of TV, having low self-esteem and feeling alienated from their parents. In fact, the study reports that just one of these risk factors – by itself -- increases the chances that a child will have early sex by almost 50 percent.
“We’re concerned about their behavior, we certainly don’t want [young teens] to be sexually active … and yet they’re exploited daily by the things they see, by the music they hear, by the clothes that they’re reinforced to wear. And they are very poorly guided by parents, by our society, their religions, and generally by everyone that they meet except each other,” says Gail Elizabeth Wyatt, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, UCLA professor.
Experts say the irony is that the greatest influence on a child’s decision to have sex is the opinion of his or her parents -- but that only works if the parents have expressed their views.
“Parents have 100 percent of the power, because most kids won’t admit that they listen to their parents, but what you say to them in an exchange of information is really what they need,” says Alduan Tartt, Ph.D., psychologist.
“I think other parents should quit being scared and just to talk to their kids about sex. Stop trying to sugarcoat everything, trying to make everything look pretty, just talk to your kid. Because if you don’t talk to them they are going to get lost,” says Tremain, 17.
Tips for Parents
Talking to your child about sex and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) may not be something you look forward to, but it could be the most important step in protecting your child from risky sexual behavior. Studies show that teenagers who feel highly connected to their parents are far more likely to delay sexual activity than their peers. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC)
Start early – Research shows that younger children seek their parents’ advice more than adolescents, who tend to depend more on their friends and the media. Take advantage of the opportunity to talk with your young children about sexual health. (CDC)
Initiate conversations with your child – Don't wait for your children to ask you about sex, HIV or STDs. Although you may hope that your children will come to you with their questions and concerns, it may not happen. Use everyday opportunities to talk about issues related to sexual health. For example, news stories, music, television shows or movies are great conversation starters for bringing up health topics. (CDC)
Talk WITH your child, not AT your child – Make sure you listen to your children the way you want your children to listen to you. Try to ask questions that will encourage them to share specific information about feelings, decisions and actions. (CDC)
Communicate your values – In addition to talking to your children about the biological facts of sex, it's important that they also learn that sexual relationships involve emotions, caring and responsibility. (CDC)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)