New research shows parents who smoke, drink and otherwise put their health at risk are more likely to have teenagers who experiment with sex. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a school-based study of adolescents, shows that children of parents who smoke are 50% more likely to have sex by age 15. Teenagers whose parents engage in risky health behaviors are also more likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, and engage in delinquent behavior. But teenage girls who have close relationships with their mothers wait longer to have sex for the first time.

The study involved 19,000 children in grades 7 through 12, of which 37% of the girls and 39% of the boys reported having had sex. Researchers found no correlation between unsafe parental behavior and whether the sexually active teen used contraceptives. Contraceptives were more likely to be used after 1990 and the onset of AIDS awareness.

Researchers also found that teenagers whose parents drink heavily tend to drink as well, and teen alcohol use is also closely linked to earlier sexual activity. For boys, a parent’s failure to wear a seat belt is also linked to an increase in adolescent sex. Boys whose fathers are present at bedtime and when they leave for and return from school are less likely to have had sex. The same is true for girls whose mothers are present at those times. However, the mother’s presence had no impact on whether a boy was sexually active, and the father’s presence had no effect on a girl’s sexual activity.

The same study indicates that girls are less likely to have sex when their moms strongly disapprove. The same impact was not found for mothers and sons, and researchers concluded that other influences, such as friends, may have a stronger effect on boys. Talking about birth control did not appear to have any effect on teens’ sexual behavior, meaning that sex education classes do not encourage teens to have sex, as some critics have claimed.

Mothers whose daughters were still virgins strongly disapproved of their daughters having sex, were satisfied with their mother-daughter relationship, frequently talked with the parents of their daughters’ friends, and were more likely to have a college degree.

Things that made no difference were how religious the mothers were, how often they talked about sex, how uncomfortable they were talking about sex and whether they recommended that their daughters use a specific kind of birth control.

Many parents don’t realize their kids are already having sex. Half of the parents of sexually active teens said their child was not having sex.

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