The Parental Factor

According to Christine Kim, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation, "Parental factors that appear to offer strong protection against the onset of early sexual activity include an intact family structure; parents' disapproval of adolescent sex; teens' sense of belonging to and satisfaction with their families; parental monitoring; and to a lesser extent, parent-child communication about teen sex and its consequences."19

Dr. Robert Blum, professor and chair of the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at Johns Hopkins, published a study designed to gauge parental influence on a girl's sexual behavior. His overall conclusion? The quality of the relationship between teens and their mothers was the primary factor in support of virginity.20 Attachment, anyone? When the girls felt close to their moms and were aware that they disapproved of premarital sex, they were less likely to engage in such activities. Parental closeness was pivotal, but it resulted less from family activities and "lectures" than it did from parents' regular involvement in their children's lives.

Dr. Blum said, "We went out and asked kids in focus groups around the Twin Cities, 'How do you know if you're connected to your parents?' and they gave us fabulous answers. . . . They said things like, 'My mom works two jobs but she always calls when I come home to see how my day was.' Or 'When I go on a date, my dad doesn't say, 'How was what's his name.' To kids, being connected means 'My parents remember me. They think I'm important in their lives and they give me that message all the time.'"21 It is also helpful to talk to the parents of your daughter's friends.

Blum said talking about sex is important, but it does not mean sitting down in the living room for a serious discussion with diagrams and charts. The kids tell him, "Spare me that one." Instead, he suggests, "Talking about sex is reading the newspaper and saying, 'Hey, what do you think about that?' It's turning off the television and saying, 'What's happening in your world?' It's also driving in your minivan with your daughters, discussing the latest episode of Oprah."22

Dr. Blum's findings make sense, but it's important to note that the nature of those conversations is critically important. Sadly, today's kids are regularly given mixed messages by their moms and dads. The so-called safe-sex culture has indoctrinated parents to such a degree that many will say to their kids, "I hope you don't have sex, but if you do, I hope you'll be smart enough to use protection." Is that wise advice to give a hormone-driven teenager who is eager to explore the pleasures of adult sexuality? I certainly think not! In fact, a recent survey asked teens if that qualifying statement left them thinking their parents were basically giving them a green light to have sex with their girlfriend or boyfriend. Nearly half of those kids responded in the affirmative.23

Other studies reveal that older teenage girls who have better relationships with their fathers tend to postpone sexual activity longer. The researchers concluded that those who are close to their fathers tend to have fewer boyfriends, feel more guilty about having premarital sex, and tend to eat more meals together as a family.24

In short, having a healthy relationship with your daughter (or son) helps to inoculate her against immoral behavior. Clearly, the best birth control for teens is not only Mom, but also Dad! In a world where ten thousand American teenagers contract a venereal disease every day, that is very good news.25 Unfortunately, mothers and fathers are often unaware of their impact, or else they misinterpret it.

In one survey of seven hundred teens, 58 percent reported being sexually active, but only 34 percent of their mothers believed they were.26 Clearly, there is a major disconnect at this point. Of course, since time began, curious and crafty teenagers have been pushing the envelope, often trying to hide their sexual escapades from Mom and Dad, but never before have the stakes been so high. Now more than ever, parents should invest themselves in their children, building bridges to them stone upon stone and precept upon precept.

How is that accomplished? With generous amounts of that most precious of commodities: time. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University conducted a study debunking the catchphrase "It's not the quantity of time spent with children that counts; it is the quality."27 In fact, that transparent little rationalization is responsible for millions of children being given neither. Quality moments don't occur in the absence of time. Unfortunately, time is in short supply in most of today's homes. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Reed Larson found that adolescents spend only 4.8 percent of their time with their parents and only 2 percent with adults who are not their parents.28

Chap Clark, Ph.D., professor at Fuller Theological Seminary, laments this lack of intimacy between generations. He writes:

Adolescents have been cut off for far too long from the adults who have the power and experience to escort them into the greater society. Adolescents have been abandoned. They have, therefore, created their own world, a world that is designed to protect them from the destructive forces and wiles of the adult community.29

Pollster Frank Luntz addressed this problem in his book What Americans Really Want . . . Really. In addition to his other objectives, he wanted to determine what parents could do to help their teens cultivate a commitment to good, clean living. Specifically, he hoped to ascertain what moms and dads could do to draw their children toward their values and further into the family itself. I think Dr. Luntz's findings are insightful and would be useful to parents trying to create "good news" at home. He kindly gave me permission to quote from his book:

The American family is broken. Not entirely shattered, but certainly broken. When more than half of marriages end in divorce, we have a problem with broken families. When one in three children lives in a home with only one biological parent, we have a problem with broken families. There are countless households where single parents and even responsible older siblings are stepping up and stepping in to fill the void created by the absence of another parent. Unconventional families are doing what they can to make do, but it's an uphill struggle. The strains on time, resources, and money that result from raising a family are increasingly difficult for two-parent households, let alone for single parents. . . . Good examples are best set and opportunities for children to learn are greatest when they have a mother and a father to teach them. We know we have to do better.

19.Christine C. Kim, "Teen Sex: The Parent Factor," Backgrounder, Heritage Foundation, no. 2194 (October 7, 2008).

20. Ibid.

21.Laura Billings, "Best Birth Control for Teens Is Mom," Saint Paul Pioneer Press (September 8,

2002), C1.

22. Ibid.

23.Bill Albert, "With One Voice 2007: America's Adults and Teens Sound Off about Teen Pregnancy," National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (February 2007); see http://www

24.Mark D. Regnerus and Laura B. Luchies, "The Parent-Child Relationship and Opportunities for Adolescents' First Sex," Journal of Family Issues 27, no. 2 (February 2006): 159–183.

25.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur each year in the United States, and almost half are among 15- to 24-year-olds. In the United States, 10,000 teens are infected by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) per day; one out of every four sexually active teens has an STD.

26.James Jaccard, Patricia J. Dittus, and Vivian V. Gordon, "Parent-Adolescent Congruency in Reports of Adolescent Sexual Behavior and in Communications about Sexual Behavior," Child Development 69, no. 1 (February 1998): 247–261.

27.Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Reed Larson, Being Adolescent: Conflict and Growth in the Teenage Years (New York: Basic Books, 1984).

28. Ibid.

29. Chap Clark, Hurt: Inside the World of Today's Teenagers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic,2004), 21.

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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