Peggy B. Smith, Ph.D., Director, Baylor Teen Health Clinic (320x240)
Peggy B. Smith, Ph.D., Director, Baylor Teen Health Clinic

It is not uncommon for parents to worry about what their teenage children are doing on a Friday or Saturday night but according to a Baylor College of Medicine expert, it is weekday afternoons when teens often choose to engage in risky behaviors like sexual activities.

“The hours between 4 and 6 p.m. can be difficult because during this time teens are home from school but in many cases, parents have not yet gotten home from work. Teens are unsupervised, and it can be a time when they start doing things like having sex,” said Dr. Peggy Smith, director of the Baylor Teen Health Clinics.

That’s a scary thought for parents, since there’s not much they can do to rearrange their work schedule. Fortunately, there are other protective factors that parents should focus on that may delay a teen becoming sexually active. These include:

  • Eating meals together to encourage a supportive family unit
  • Encouraging academic excellence and extracurricular activities to positively fill their free time
  • Having two parents involved in the child’s life, either as an intact family or through a “team” parenting approach
  • Having a religious affiliation
  • Talking with your kids about sexual development and decisions surrounding sexual activity

While talking with your child is important throughout their teen years, it’s also key to communicate in a way that is appropriate for their age. Smith offers some advice on effective communication:

For younger teens – ages 13 to 15 – keep the conversation honest and direct. They want to know why their bodies are changing, so parents can use that discussion as a way to talk about sex. Teens at this age have an increased desire for privacy and they often believe bad things can’t happen to them, so it can be a time for risk-taking. Parents should be aware of changes in behavior and keep in mind that they should be able to monitor any technology that they pay for.

By middle adolescence – ages 15 to 17 – teens are starting to challenge parents on issues like clothes, hair color and dating. Parents should choose their battles wisely with this age group and continue to be direct, but non-hostile, when talking about sex. Teens may start to have sex during this stage of development but they also are capable of abstract and logical thinking, like the importance of planning ahead. Still, they may not be mature enough to appreciate the long-term consequences of sexual behavior. Parents should keep this in mind and talk about the potential outcomes, emotionally and physically, of being sexually active.

In late adolescence, teens have a desire to relate to their parents, and they are interested in discussion on topics related to ethics and moral values. They can understand the risks and consequences of sex, and they may want to know what their parents think about sex. Don’t turn away from these conversations, Smith advises. Parents may also want to use conversations with older teens as a form of practice with their younger teens.

Whatever the age of the teen, parents should not shy away from conversations about sex and other potentially risky behavior.

“Family is sometimes not a powerful behavior-shaping force because of parental discomfort with sexual discussion,” Smith said. “When this is the case, teens typically turn to their peers for information. Parents need to think about who they want their children getting information from.”