Get ready for the best news you've heard all day, parents: Your kids are actually listening to you about sex. In fact, teenagers in a recent poll said that parents were their most important influence when it comes to making decisions about sex. A full 87 percent of respondents expressed the belief that it would be easier to make responsible decisions about sex if they felt they could have more open and honest conversations with their parents.
Still, the study wasn't all flowers, candy and crying over a tube of cookie dough while watching Golden Girls reruns on lifetime. Most kids think they know all they need to know about birth control (86 percent) while two thirds say that they have no idea how to use a condom. Sounds like that abstinence-only education is working like gangbusters. The worst part? Among sexually active teens between 15 and 19, over half wish they had waited longer to have sex, included two-thirds of teenage girls.
But something you might not have considered is the effect that trash television is having on your children. Nearly 80 percent of teens between 12 and 19 think that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are great ways to scare the crap out of yourself about teen pregnancy. Actually, what they said was that the shows “help teens better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenting,” but we like our way better.
The poll was a project of the The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy, organizers of the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The organization has broad-based support from places like Seventeen, Telemundo, TeenNick and MTV. In the course of polling teens, the group also talked to parents. The majority of Americans think that kids should get more federally funded sex education that encourages kids to postpone sex, while also giving them information about contraception and birth control. Take that, Rick Santorum.
For its part, the National Campaign is non-profit and non-partisan, meaning that it actually has some room to figure out actual solutions to the conundrum of teen pregnancy, rather than consulting with Grover Norquist or whoever is calling the shots in American public policy from behind the scenes these days.
So what does the poll really say when taken as a whole? Well, it seems that kids are eager to have information about sex and their parents are eager to give them access to it. But kids don't feel like they can talk openly and honestly with their parents about sex. And who can blame them? It's not like talking to your kids about sex is easy. And you know what's harder than that? Talking to your parents (ew, gross) about sex. So who does that leave?
School officials mostly. A curriculum designed to teach kids about contraception and encourage thoughtful choices about sex (in line with personal and family values) is bound to step on the toes of those who wish that kids wouldn't even know the mechanics of sex until their mid-30s. However, it seems incredibly foolish and backward to tailor curriculum around what parents think their kids “should” and “shouldn't learn.” In a world where HIV is still a threat and HPV is a rising epidemic, we can't rely upon MTV and lowest-common-denominator curricula to educate children about sex.