Teens with strong family and community ties are less likely to have early sex

In one of the first studies to examine the link between children’s sexual behavior and their social connections at home, school and in the neighborhood, a new study led by a UCSF pediatrician has found that teens who have closer relationships with their families and neighbors are less likely to start having sex at a young age.

The findings could help public health officials, parents and communities tailor their conversations about sex to reach young people better than traditional sex education in schools has been able to do – and potentially reduce the risks associated with sex at a young age, such as abuse. communicable infections, unplanned pregnancies and depression.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that children whose parents restricted their dating were 55% less likely to have sex in the 10th grade compared to children whose parents did not restrict their dating or checked.

Teens from close neighborhoods and teens who spent less time alone at home were also less likely to have sex in 10th grade than those who did not have strong neighborhood ties or who spent a lot of time alone at home.

Adolescents in neighborhoods that were socioeconomically disadvantaged and had lower levels of education were 24% and 23% more likely, respectively, to have sex by the 10th grade, compared to adolescents in neighborhoods that were wealthier and had higher levels of education.

Black and Latino youth were more likely to start having sex at a young age. Researchers attribute this disparity to the legacy of institutionalized racism, including redlining, which destroyed neighborhoods and created barriers to neighborhood cohesion.

The results were based on survey responses from 4,001 adolescents starting when they were in fifth grade and again in seventh and tenth grades. Participants lived in Alabama, California and Texas and came from 751 neighborhoods and 115 schools. Parents and teachers were also interviewed.

Teens were asked about the quality of their relationships at home and in their neighborhoods, such as how likely family and neighbors were to spend time together and help each other, and to what extent students trusted each other and their teachers.

Researchers were surprised to find that children’s social connections at school didn’t seem to influence whether they started having sex at a young age.

Lead author Dr. Camila Cribb Fabersunne, a UCSF pediatrician, said this highlights the important role parents and neighborhoods play in young people’s sexual behavior.

“Sex education is what everyone is focusing on, but this suggests it’s not really the effective piece,” she said. “What this tells me as a pediatrician is that families and parents should be encouraged to have deep, supportive relationships with their teen.”

“Contrary to the myth that your teen is going to do whatever he wants, something useful happens when parents and families support teens in a safe, supportive environment at home, where there is trust, and monitor their activities and ensure that they know what is happening in their teen’s lives on a daily basis,” she said.

Reach Catherine Ho: [email protected]