Over and over again I learn how important a parent’s voice is when it comes to the conversations surrounding sex and sexuality. Parental involvement is critical in forming healthy sexual attitudes and behaviors. There are three areas I think parents can focus on this school year that will make a big difference in the years ahead.
Communication is KEY
Yes, peer and media influences impact youth and probably more than ever before. However, parents continue to be the largest influence of sexual attitude formation among adolescents. An important piece of parental involvement is communication between parents and children.
Parental expectations regarding sexual activity have significant impacts on young adult sexual activity, particularly regarding first sexual encounters. This can only happen though if the parent is communicating their value to their child. Parental attitudes and expectations have been found to be protective, and as parental disapproval and communication of sexual integrity messages are communicated over and over, the likelihood of your son and/or daughter living out these values increases dramatically.
It is worth noting though, how we communicate matters! While communicating messages of sexual integrity can contribute to delayed sexual experience, too much control or authoritarianism can lead to the opposite effect. Simply challenging your kids to wait and make it more about a rule than a change of heart can have just the opposite effect!
Children Need to Know YOU Care!
In addition to communication, general care is often correlated with timing of sexual initiation. Support, perceptions of closeness and connection all factor into an overall caring environment. A few years ago, I read about a Dutch study that found favorable perceptions of parental care, support and connection are correlated with delayed sexual experience. I think the Dutch were on to something!
Simply communicating is not enough if your children don’t know you really care about their overall well-being. Being connected to a parent functions as a tool that protects against early sexual involvement. Take time to be with your children, enter their world, and get to know the things they are involved with throughout the school year. This will have a tremendous impact on the way in which your words (communication) land on them during the school year.
Don’t Be Afraid To Be The Parent
The popular notion is to be a child’s best friend but this can undermine your authority. Being close to your child is important but don’t forget the role you play as their parent! Studies that have looked at parental control and sexual experience find that higher levels of control (less permissiveness, more supervision, and parents perceived as more strict) correlate with a delay of first sexual intercourse. It is worth noting that control alone may be counterproductive in reducing sexual activity, but is effective if coupled with care and communication.
Making a distinction between authoritative control (clear and fair demands) and authoritarian control (an arbitrary insistence on obedience), is important to isolating the most effective factors of encouraging sexual health. Again, this all works together, but when you engage in your child’s world you become more aware of what they are watching, listening to, and who their friends are. Higher levels of monitoring were associated with lower levels of sexual risk-taking, and delayed sexual initiation.
When a parent communicates effectively, shows they care, but also is not afraid to show their authority when it’s required, have youth that more often than not delay sexual activity and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors. So as this school year begins take note of each and keep the dialogue moving forward!
Jason Soucinek is the Executive Director and founder of Project Six19. Dedicated to talking honestly about matters of sex, sexuality and relationships. Jason has spent more than a decade engaging audiences of all ages and backgrounds. He is an internationally recognized seminar and conference speaker and published writer on issues surrounding sexuality and youth culture. He can be heard on Project Six19’s podcasts, “DriveTime” and “Mixtape” as well as the CPYU podcast, “Youth Culture Matters.”