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Six Simple Rules to Raise Sexually Abstinent Children

March 9, 2004

John F. Tanner, Jr., associate professor of Marketing at Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business, has some pointers for parents who want to raise sexually abstinent children.

"Delivering a baby is the number one reason American teen girls go to the hospital," said Tanner. "In addition, teens who are sexually active are at the greatest risk for contracting sexually transmitted diseases.  Our research shows that parents can be the most influential factor in keeping teens abstinent and free from pregnancy or disease." A preeminent researcher in the field, he has been studying the issue since 1985.

Tanner asserts that the stacks of research results he, Mary Anne Raymond and Chris Hopkins (both at Clemson University) have produced over the years can be distilled into "Six Simple Rules" to raise sexually abstinent children:

  1. Start the conversation early.  Around 8% of our seventh grade children willingly have sex - so start talking to them about it sooner.

  2. Set rules.  Kids with rules about dating and activities involving the other sex also have the strongest refusal skills and they talk more about boy/girl issues with their parents.

  3. Don't let your own past hold you back.  Parents who had sex as teens are just as effective as are parents who were abstinent.  Teens also don't need to know what you did - it was, after all, a time before AIDS and you can tell them that what you did isn't relevant to today's world.

  4. Use media to start conversations.  When you see an ad for beer parties or when you see shows like "Coupling" advertised, ask your children what they think about it.  Freely express your views because your children really want to know what you think.  They consider you a much stronger influence than they do the media, but they have to know what you think to be influenced.

  5. Talk about the future.  The "what do you want to be when you grow up" conversations are often about career.  More important to your child's development is what type of person does he or she want to be.  How will she know when she's reached that?  What relationship does he think there is between his behavior today and his future?   The stronger your children's recognition of the link between today and tomorrow, the greater their likelihood of remaining abstinent.

  6. Abstinence is a lifestyle, not a decision.  Children who are abstinent are also more likely to be abstinent from alcohol, smoking, and skipping school.  They are also more able to be responsible with their money.  Teaching your child how to make good shopping decisions may help your child make good life decisions.  But recognize that abstinence is not a single decision - it is part of a healthy lifestyle.

Tanner joined the McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Project (a Title V program) in 1998 and began to evaluate abstinence education programs. He now also evaluates Worth the Wait in the Texas Panhandle and Shannon Health in San Angelo, Texas. His research in this area has appeared in the Journal of Marketing, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, Psychological Reports, and others. Tanner can be reached directly at 254-710-3485 or by email at Jeff_Tanner@baylor.edu.

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