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Not only are these assumptions faulty, they tend to disregard important factors that have been linked to reduced teen sexual activity.

A particularly noticeable omission is parental influence.

When it comes to talking about teen sex, both teens and parents report high levels of communication.

Parents, however, tend to perceive a greater level of communication than do teens.

Nearly all parents (90 percent) report having had a helpful conversation about delaying sex and avoiding pregnancy with their teenage children, compared to 71 percent of teens who report having had such a conversation with their parents.[10] Many parents are also unaware of their teens' actual behavior.

In a study of 700 teens in Philadelphia, 58 percent of the teens reported being sexually active, while only one-third of their mothers believed they were.[11] The empirical evidence on the association between parental influences and adolescents' sexual behavior is strong.

Parental factors that appear to offer strong protection against the onset of early sexual activity include an intact family structure; parents' disapproval of adolescent sex; teens' sense of belonging to and satisfaction with their families; parental monitoring; and, to a lesser extent, parent-child communication about teen sex and its consequences.

That parents play a role in teen sex points to at least two significant policy implications.

About 7 percent of high school students report having had sex before the age of 13.First, programs and policies that seek to delay sexual activity or to prevent teen pregnancy or STDs should encourage and strengthen family structure and parental involvement.Doing so may increase these efforts' overall effectiveness.At best, cross-sectional data offer evidence of correlations, e.g., parental disapproval of teen sex is associated with delayed sexual initiation. South, "Community Effects on Youth Sexual Activity," Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 540–554; Bersamin, Todd, Fisher et al., "Parenting Practices and Adolescent Sexual Behavior"; Sieving, Mc Neely, and Blum, "Maternal Expectations, Mother-Child Connectedness, and Adolescent Sexual Debut"; Ralph J. Wingood, Richard Crosby et al., "Parental Monitoring: Association with Adolescents' Risk Behavior," Pediatrics, Vol. Longitudinal surveys, on the other hand, follow the same group of individuals over time, which allows researchers to infer stronger findings.

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