Mothers opposing teen sex more likely to get their wish

August 14, 1996|By Marie McCullough | Marie McCullough,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

As a parent, you want your teen-ager to just say no to sex, but you're in a quandary.

Should you take a hard line against premarital sex? Should you say it's OK in a long-term relationship? Should you talk about birth control, just in case?

A new study, published in the current issue of Family Planning Perspectives, offers some intriguing answers. The researchers found that when mothers took a firm, unequivocal line against premarital sex, had a good relationship with their teen-age children and avoided discussing birth control, those children were highly likely to be virgins.

To be precise, teen-agers with these three factors going for them were 12 1/2 times more likely to be virgins than teen-agers without them.

Although the findings are based on a survey of a narrow sample -- 751 African-American youths ages 14 to 17 and their mothers in Philadelphia -- the researchers say they believe the results bolster other, broader research that has shown parents have a powerful influence on adolescent sexual behavior.

"I think one important message is that parents can make a difference," said the new study's principal author, James Jaccard, a psychology professor at the State University of New York at Albany. "Many parents think adolescence is a time of parental rejection and that they have little influence on teen-agers. It becomes very important for parents to open the communication channels because they can have an impact."

The study also may fuel a debate over the appropriateness of discussing birth control with teen-agers.

But Jaccard cautioned that the findings do not necessarily mean that talking about birth control tacitly encourages teens to have sex -- as critics of sex education have long contended.

"What is it that parents are saying about birth control that may not be put in the right context? We don't know," Jaccard said. "It's an issue that needs to be explored in depth. My own personal opinion is that issues of birth control do need to be addressed, and the question is, what is the optimal way of addressing it?"

Overall, 57 percent of the teens reported having had sexual intercourse -- 65 percent of the males and 50 percent of the females. Thirteen percent of the females also had been pregnant.

Only 42 percent of the mothers said they believed their children had had sex.

Jaccard, who has spent his career studying how parents shape adolescents' behavior on the critical issues of sex, birth control, drugs and alcohol, says he believes some factors transcend race and socioeconomics. For example, a previous survey he did of white middle-class teen-agers in two-parent families showed the same result as the new study: Parental disapproval of premarital sex and the quality of the parent-child relationships were potent predictors of adolescent sexual activity.

Pub Date: 8/14/96

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