WASHINGTON (BP)–Teens today may be more cautious toward sex than generally believed and may be paying more attention to their parents’ warnings, according to survey results released Dec. 16 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
The study found that 67 percent of sexually experienced teens say they wish they had waited longer before having sexual intercourse. The breakdown by gender indicates 77 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys regret becoming sexually active too early.
Eighty-five percent of teens agreed sex should occur only in a long-term, committed relationship, and only 26 percent said it is embarrassing for teens to admit they are virgins. Teens credit their own morals, values, religious beliefs and concerns about the future for influencing their attitudes about sex more than concerns about pregnancy or STDs.
The opportunity to test those attitudes is significant, considering 42 percent of teens in high school said they had been at a party in the past six months with boys and girls where no adults were present.
Regarding teen pregnancy, 84 percent of teens surveyed said they believe teen pregnancy prevention programs should teach young people to be married before they have a child.
Parental influence is more important in a teen’s life than generally believed. Forty-five percent of teens said their parents most influence their decisions about sex compared to 31 percent who said their friends are most influential. Religious leaders were only the most influential among 7 percent, while teachers and sex educators stood at 6 percent and the media at 4 percent.
Eighty-eight percent of teens said it would be easier to postpone sexual activity and avoid teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about such topics with their parents, and 59 percent said when it comes to healthy, responsible relationships, their parents are their role models.
Meanwhile, only 32 percent of adults surveyed believe parents are most influential in their teens’ decisions about sex.
Richard Ross, one of the founders of the True Love Waits abstinence movement and professor of youth and student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said few youth ministers realize that parents are the most powerful determinants of core values and decisions among teenagers. Most would guess sports heroes or renowned speakers or even youth pastors are the most influential, but research continues to indicate otherwise.
“We absolutely must call and equip our parents to teach biblical truth and to integrate it into the flow of daily life,” Ross said in a statement to Baptist Press. “We must call and equip them to model that same truth before their children. Abdicating that role to the church has just about done us in.”
Ross added another vital element to the discussion of parental influence.
“Parents doing an acceptable job of teaching and modeling truth may still lose their children to sexual immorality,” he said. “The missing element often is a heart connection between parent and child. When parents get distracted with making money and other adult issues, the teenagers grow cold and empty. In their immaturity, they often try to fill that void in the arms of an equally empty ‘lover.'”
The majority of adults and teens (87 percent and 88 percent) said they would prefer for the media to show more about the consequences of sex, including teen pregnancy. At the same time, 45 percent of teens say that in the past year or so, something in the media sparked a conversation with their friends or parents about the consequences of sex.
Regarding abstinence and contraception, 94 percent of adults and 92 percent of teens believe that it is important for teens to be given a strong message from society that they should not have sex until they are at least out of high school. Seventy-one percent of adults and 59 percent of teens surveyed said they believe that teens should not be sexually active, but teens who are should have access to birth control.
Two-thirds of adults and teens urge policymakers in Washington to place greater emphasis on encouraging teens not to have sex and greater emphasis on contraception, rather than just abstinence or just contraception. Adults and teens do not consider such emphases a “mixed message,” and only 13 percent of teens said they are getting enough information about abstinence and contraception.
Ross noted the dangers of treating abstinence and contraception equally.
“The year before True Love Waits exploded, messages to teenagers were centered on instruction about condoms. We had lots of disease and lots of pregnancies. During each of the 10 years of TLW, we have talked more about abstinence and less about condoms,” he said. “Rates of teenage sexual activity have dropped every year. Teen births have dropped. STDs among teenagers have dropped. To those who want to go back to indiscriminate condom discussions, I just say: We tried that. Kids got hurt by the hundreds of thousands, and society is still paying the costs of the consequences. Why would we go do that again?”
If condoms are going to be a part of the dialog at all, Ross said, they should be presented as an alternative only for those who fail at abstinence. He emphasized that educators should be aware that introducing condoms at all is problematic.
“I would want a teacher to say, ‘The following discussion is for those of you who are choosing to reject what you likely sense to be right, and you are choosing to bring great pain into your life and the lives of those you care about, and you are choosing to miss the joy of relationships that are built on trust and fidelity,'” Ross said. “What’s intolerable is for a teacher or leader to present condoms (and by inference, promiscuity) as simply an alternative lifestyle equal in value with any other.”
The National Campaign survey questioned 1,000 young people ages 12-19 and 1,008 adults age 20 and older, according to the news release. The telephone surveys were conducted by International Communications Research in August and September 2003.
Founded in 1996, National Campaign is a private nonprofit organization with the goal of reducing the teen pregnancy rate by one-third between 1996 and 2005.
For more information, visit National Campaign’s website at www.teenpregnancy.org.
Compiled by Erin Curry, with reporting by Michael Foust.