From the very beginning, parents have been reluctant to talk to their kids about sex, though many say they've had "the talk."
For baby boomer parents, that "talk" is a mixture of what they think, coupled with what they did in their pasts and what they fear for their children now, says Dr. Carolyn Landis, a clinical psychologist at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "Whatever your morals and values are, your children need to hear you say that early on, and hear you say it often.
"If you want your children not to do something, and you expect them not to, you have a good chance they won't," she says.
A study done by CWRU's Center for Health Promotion Research found that 80 percent of teens questioned said their parents' opinion of what they do is either "very important" or "extremely important" to them.
Many parents face the problem of how much supervision is enough for their older adolescents. As the children mature and gain independence, parents feel the need to allow more freedom and independent decision-making.
"Many parents believe that the exposure to risky behaviors such as sex, tobacco and alcohol is high in today's society and their job is to teach responsible behavior," says Dr. Elaine Borawski, director of the Center for Health Promotion Research. "But our preliminary research suggests that in the process they also may be giving permission to their children to engage in those high-risk behaviors.
"The more willing parents were to negotiate curfews, the more likely the kids were to behave in risky ways," Borawski says.
Landis says the most important thing parents can do is monitor their children: Know where they are, know who they're with, don't leave them alone with the opposite sex for long periods without checking on them (even if they're in groups), and don't be afraid of being the unpopular parent. She also recommends firm curfews.
"Show up at their parties, call other parents and keep walking downstairs to replenish the chips when they have friends over. You're not their best friend; you are their parent," says Landis.
And if your child complains that you don't trust him, Landis says parents should respond, "It's not that I don't trust you; it's that you might get into a situation that is unsafe. And I'm trying to protect you from that."
"Parents need to get over the need to give their kids total freedom and total privacy. They're not going to tell you everything, and I would never expect a teenager to tell a parent everything," Landis says.
"The most savvy parents snoop," says Borawski.
A 2002 study of 3,000 pairs of moms and teenagers by the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development reported that half of the moms of kids who were sexually active didn't realize it. Forty-five percent of the boys and 30 percent of the girls whose moms strongly disapproved of teen sex didn't know that either. The study also found that well-educated mothers who maintain strong links with the parents of their children's friends had the most success in preventing their children from becoming sexually active at an early age.