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Dr. Paul LatimerThe sexual behaviour of teenagers can strike fear in the hearts of most parents.

Media reports and documentaries routinely tell us that today’s teenagers are more sexually active, at younger ages, than ever. It’s not uncommon for 13- and 14-year-old kids to experiment sexually.

But what does this mean and what are the implications, if any, on the healthy development of children? And what should parents be aware of when dealing with their children during these critical years?

Many factors play into a child’s willingness to experiment sexually. One recent study revealed a link between self-esteem and sexual behaviour. It found that preteen girls with low self-esteem are more likely to engage in sexual acts before the age of 15. On the other hand, boys with low self-esteem are more likely to postpone sex.

But self-esteem is not the only thing that affects the likelihood of sexual activity among teenagers. Poor relationships with parents and being involved with drinking or smoking are also linked to an increased likelihood of sexual activity at a young age.

Unfortunately, early sexual activity puts children at risk of pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. And it can damage them emotionally.

As parents, it’s important to talk with kids about sex at a young age. Your kids will hear about it at school and may get misinformation from friends. Wouldn’t you rather they hear about this important topic from you instead of on the schoolyard?

It’s up to parents to provide the facts about sexuality and to impart your chosen moral message about the circumstances in which sexual intimacy is appropriate or not.

Once you’ve had the initial ‘sex talk,’ make sure your children understand that the communication door is always open.

You can’t stop your children from having sex. But you can educate them about the realities and consequences of becoming sexually active before they’re ready.

Talking about sex doesn’t mean you are endorsing it.

Get involved as parents. Know your children enough to know who they are hanging out with and what they are doing. If you’re aware, you’re more likely to know when intervention or communication is needed.

Finally, teach your children to love and value themselves so that they don’t feel pressured into actions they aren’t ready for. When you teach children they are special and important, they will learn to treat themselves that way.

The parents who are proactive about sex education can minimize the fear and uncertainty as their children navigate the teenage years.

Paul Latimer is president of Okanagan Clinical Trials and a Kelowna psychiatrist.

teens sex

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