You might think peers are your kid's primary go-to pipeline when it comes to sex – but in reality, teenagers are more likely to get the message from you.
Teenagers look to parents for sexual role modeling
A 2011 national online study conducted by the University of Montreal revealed that 45 percent of teens view their parents as their sexual role model, while only 32 percent looked to their friends and 15 percent to celebrities. One in three had no role model at all. "We forget Britney Spears and Brad Pitt are only pictures. Parents are the real substance," said the study's co-author Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier.
The researchers surveyed 1139 mothers with teenagers and 1171 youths between the ages of 14 and 17. The questionnaire addressed the following:
Let’s talk about sex
Teenagers who looked to their parents for sexual messaging were more likely to live in families where sexuality was openly discussed. Moreover, these teens were also more likely to be tuned into the risks and consequences of sexually transmitted diseases. "Good communication within families and especially around sexual health issues is associated with more responsible behaviors," said Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier in a press release for the study.
Even when the squirmy topic of sex starts kids shuffling and avoiding The Talk, they’re still taking in more from you than you realize. Nearly one in eight moms in the Montreal study thought their kids copied their friends' sexual behavior.
"Parents seem to underestimate their role and the impact that they have," Frappier explained. "Health professionals and the media have an important role to play in empowering parents and enabling them to increase their communications with their children with regards to sexual health issues."
Besides feeling nervous about bringing up the subject of sex, Frappier says parents might be afraid to regularly go there with their kids because they figure they aren't too influential on the topic.
"Yes, (teens) want to become independent, but what we forget is that they have been living with their parents for years and they are probably still very important.
Dad should definitely get into the conversation although he’s more likely to get the brush off than Mom. Sixty-one percent of teens in the study were OK asking their mother about sex, while only 28 percent would broach the subject with their father.
Counter-balance peer pressure
Frappier found that teenagers who used their peers as sexual role models, regardless of whether they looked to their parents, were more likely to be sexually active. They were also more likely to engage in at least one risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex.
It's a given that teens will talk to their friends about sex, it’s all part of the peer experience, but parents can counter-balance some of the negative influences and misinformation. Frappier says teenagers should decide to have sex "when they're ready, when they feel respected – not because friends are doing it or because they think friends are doing it."
Talking about sex with your child doesn’t have to be confrontational or lecturing – approaches that turn off teens. Frappier suggests parents bring up issues as they surface organically, like during the news or conversation on a related subject.
Bottom line, if parents are involved, teens communicate more easily about sex, are less likely to become sexually active, and are more likely to learn about sexually transmitted diseases. "Parents need to step in, and schools also," Frappier says. "They are important even though they feel like they are left out. It's the job of parents to stay on."
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