Skip to main content /HEALTH with /HEALTH

Teen sex: Moms may have big impact on girls

Teen sex: Moms may have big impact on girls

By Gina Greene

(CNN) -- A close relationship with their mothers is a strong factor for girls who delay having sex for the first time, but the same doesn't hold true for boys, researchers at the University of Minnesota announced Wednesday.

Their report is based on data from the largest existing databank on adolescent health, which includes surveys with 90,000 teenagers and which the National Institute of Child and Human Development sponsors.

For the report, several thousand follow-up interviews were conducted with mothers and teens in their homes, said lead researcher Dr. Robert Blum, a pediatrics professor with the University of Minnesota's Center for Adolescent Health and Development.

The research, said Blum, suggests a strong relationship helps convey a parent's values to a child. "Kids who are close to their moms are much more tuned in and in sync with what their moms' values," he said.

Researchers also found that kids often don't get the message when their parents strongly disapprove of them having sex.

Teen sex: What makes a difference? 

When mothers strongly disapproved of their kids having sex, 30 percent of girls and nearly 50 percent of boys didn't think that was the case, the report said. But kids who accurately perceived their mothers' strong disapproval of sex were more likely to wait longer to have sex, it found.

"Simply stating parents' disapproval of teen sex is not enough," the researchers wrote in their report. "Clearly, some teenagers do not get the message."

That discovery parallels what others studying teens' behavior have found.

"If their parents have not really talked with them about behavior -- whether they want them or think they should be sexually involved or not -- then the young person's perception is that it doesn't make a difference to parents," said Marie Mitchell, director of teen reproductive health services for Grady Health Systems in Atlanta, Georgia.

Among other findings:

  • Discussions between mothers and children were different depending on the child's gender. "Moms are more likely to admonish their daughters -- if you have sex it's going to hurt your reputation, it's going to hurt your future. But for sons, they're more likely to say you need to protect yourself," said Blum, who said he found this point to be one of the most surprising findings.
  • Nearly all mothers interviewed reported having discussed the "birds and bees" with their children to some degree. However, when the potential negative consequences of sex were discussed -- such as pregnancy or harm to their reputation -- no impact was seen on the child's behavior.
  • When kids were not having sex, mothers overwhelmingly knew about it. But when children had crossed the line, only about half of the moms knew what their kids had been doing. "We don't often pick up cues," Blum said. "We often aren't having the conversations. We often don't want to know."
  • Mothers have an effect in other ways as well. Girls who had mothers with higher levels of education were more likely to delay sex. Teens with highly religious mothers were not more or less likely to have sex than other teens. Girls were more likely to put off having sex if their mothers frequently spoke with the parents of their friends.
  • Overall, mothers appear to have less influence over their sons' sex lives than their daughters'. For adolescent boys, other influences such as fathers, siblings and peers may carry more weight.
  • Blum said working with parents can be an effective way to reach children.

    "This report adds weight to what we've been seeing, and that is that parents matter in the lives of kids," he said.


    Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
    External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.


    Back to the top