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It's never too soon to talk to children about sex

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POSTED: October 7, 2009 10:01 a.m.
October is the health department’s “Let’s talk” month, and the campaign encourages parents to talk to their children about sex and sexuality.
This is very important for many reasons. Research shows that teens are more likely to begin having sex later in life when they have discussed sexuality with their parents. Open communication with trusted adults helps young people develop responsible, positive attitudes and behaviors about sexuality. Moreover, those teens who do decide to become sexually active are more likely to use protection when their parents have discussed sexuality with them.
Picking up tidbits about sex from peers and the media can create very distorted and false views that could lead to multiple problems.
The United States has the highest teen pregnancy, abortion and birth rates in the developed world. In fact, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is as high as those of France, Italy, Sweden, Japan and Canada combined. Sixty percent of U.S. teens will experience sexual intercourse before their 18th birthday. Every year in the United States, one out of every 10 girls under age 20 becomes pregnant and as many as 3 million girls acquire a sexually transmitted disease.  That means that one in four sexually experienced teens acquire a sexually transmitted disease every year.
Georgia has one of the highest teenage birth rates in the nation. In 2001, one in every 11 female teenagers in Georgia became pregnant before her 18th birthday and 5,377 teenage girls had repeat births. These statistics are even more disturbing given the consequences of teen pregnancy. Teenage mothers are more likely to drop out of school and become dependent on government assistance.
Children prefer to learn about sexuality from their parents, but parents are often worried and uncomfortable initiating such discussions. Some believe that discussing sexuality will encourage young people to be sexually active. But research shows that sexuality education does not cause young people to have sex earlier or more often. In short, telling your kids about sex will not encourage them to have sex, it will probably do the opposite.
According to information from the Georgia Department of Community Health, many parents think 14 or 15 is a good age to begin talking about these things. Think again. The rise in teen pregnancy has revealed that girls are having sex at 14. Boys are starting at 12. We have to start talking to our children at an earlier age. Many experts believe 10 years old isn’t too early. But whatever age you think is right, the important thing is to start talking before your children become sexually active.    
Parents who communicate effectively and often with their kids about sexuality are more likely to impart the values and attitudes that will see them through adolescence and the teen years with a focus on goals for the future rather than on pleasures of the moment. Parent-child communication is an essential part of the effort to prevent teen pregnancy.
Become well informed about the issues that face your children. The more knowledgeable you are, the more comfortable you will be in passing this information along to your child. When having sexuality discussions with your child, be prepared to:
• Get to know your children’s world. Be a part of it.
• Negotiate, compromise and consider other views.
• Encourage an open exchange of ideas.  
• Foster your child’s decision-making ability.
• Encourage questions.
• Admit ignorance when appropriate and find the answer.
• Keep a sense of humor.
• Be clear about expectations and listen.
• Respect their privacy
• Focus on behaviors.
Material for this article was obtained from the following Web sites:
www.plannedparenthood.org/EDU/brochure.html
www.cfoc.org/9_press/9_tpwatch.cfm
www.georgiahealthinfo.gov/cms

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
 

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