- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Teens who are close to their mothers and know that they disapprove of premarital sex are more likely to abstain from sex than teens who come from permissive or disengaged families, researchers say.
It is well-known that parents especially mothers influence their teenage children's decisions about sex, but less is known about how that happens, Dr. Robert Blum, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development (Add Health), said yesterday.
New data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health show that certain maternal behaviors are linked to the delaying of sexual intercourse among teens in the eighth through 11th grades, he said.
Boys and girls in all four grades are likely to stay abstinent if they know their mothers strongly disapprove of premarital sex.
Boys and girls in eighth and ninth grades are likely to stay abstinent if they have warm, healthy relationships with their mothers. This was also true of boys in the 10th and 11th grades.
Girls in the eighth and ninth grades are likely to avoid sex if their mothers talk regularly with their friends' parents. This effect was not seen among boys in these grades, however.
The data also showed that it wasn't enough for mothers to simply warn their children against having sex.
Even though more than 80 percent of mothers said they "strongly disapproved" of their teenage children having sex, 30 percent of their daughters and 45 percent of their sons didn't think their mothers felt this way.
"Kids don't always get the message," said Dr. Blum.
Instead, teens are more likely to "hear" their mothers when they are clear about their views on sex and when they do things such as "talking, listening, being available, knowing the names of friends, being in their lives," he said.
"You have to invest your time," said Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which has focused on parent-teen communication as part of its mission to reduce the teen pregnancy rate by a third by 2005.
The federally funded Add Health started in 1994 and 1995 with an in-school survey of 90,118 students in grades seven to 12.
In 1995, about 20,000 teens and their parents usually the mother took in-home interviews. In 1996, a follow-up interview was conducted with 15,000 of these teens and 18,000 parents.
Earlier studies of Add Health data have found that parent-child connectedness, college aspirations and frequent religious activity help discourage teens from smoking, drinking, violence and sex. Studies also have found that teens who are attached to their schools and get along with classmates are less likely to engage in anti-social behaviors.
Data released yesterday came from analyses of two Add Health surveys a 2000 study of 3,322 mothers and children in the eighth to 11th grades and a 2002 study of 2,006 parents (mostly mothers) and their 14- or 15-year-old teens. All the teens initially had reported that they were virgins.
In the 2000 study, 88 percent of eighth- and ninth-graders and 80 percent of 10th- and 11th-graders said they were still virgins at the time of the second interview. In the 2002 study, 89 percent of boys and 84 percent of girls said they were still virgins a year later.
When researchers looked for explanations for why teens abstained from sex, they found that mothers often were a key influence.

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