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Teen Girls Who Have a Strong Bond with Their Mothers Tend to Wait Longer to Have Sex, Study Says

Image Source: Thinkstock
Image Source: Thinkstock

It’s no secret that the relationships children form with their parents are some of the most significant ones they’ll ever have. And for years, researchers have studied just how these bonds impact kids not only when they’re young, but also once they hit the teenage years and start making decisions for themselves.

According to a recent study, maintaining those strong connections has another unforeseen upside, too. Well, at least when it comes to moms and daughters. New research out of the Netherlands has found that teen girls who are close with their moms tend to wait longer to have sex — a delay which in turn has significantly positive impacts.

Reuters reports that a team of Dutch scientists surveyed nearly 3,000 boys and girls at age 12 and again at 16, asking them about their sex lives as well as their relationships with both parents. The study, which was recently published in the journal Pediatrics, ultimately found that girls who have high-quality relationships with their moms were 44% less likely to lose their virginity during the study period.

The quality of father-daughter and even father-son relationships still seemed to have an impact on whether or not a teen waited longer to have sex, the correlation was much less direct.

“Our findings suggest that a higher-quality relationship between adolescents and their parents, especially between mothers and daughters, may help to protect against early sexual initiation,” said the authors of the study.

The authors did note that since the study is observational, the results don’t definitively prove such a close relationship leads to waiting a bit longer to have sex. But they do suggest that any possible steps towards open communication, trusting relationships, and having a vested interest in what your daughter is doing, may in fact help. And I don’t care who you are — if somebody told you that simply bonding more with your kid could prevent them from jumping into sex too early, I’m pretty sure you’d get on board with that asap.

It’s not just about wanting our kids to delay sex because we’re wildly uncomfortable with the reality that eventually, they’re going to become sexual beings. (Even though, yes — there’s that too.) The truth is, adolescents who wait until their late teens to have sex are much more likely to use contraception, which decreases the risk of unintended pregnancy. They’re also more likely to know a thing or two about STDs the longer they wait and the older they get.

And in case you are a parent that’s worried about having the sex talk for fear of “giving them ideas,” here’s what you’re forgetting: Our kids are getting the information (and then some) at school, online, and just about anywhere teens are gathered. Your best chances of having your daughter — and son, for that matter — delay sex until their late teens is by having open, non-judgmental, and fact-based conversations with them about sex.

I’ve often heard people refer to the relationship between a mother and her daughter as the most powerful bond in the world. For better or worse, it determines a girl’s future relationship skills and self-esteem.

“At a young age, girls form much of their self-esteem from a strong relationship with their mothers,” Dr. Niran Al-Agba, a pediatrician from Washington state tells Babble. “They learn that if they feel valued by their mothers, valuable to the world, and are closely bonded with their mother, they are less likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors, which includes early sexual activity,” she adds.

So how can you ensure a strong mother-daughter bond? One that gives your daughter a good foundation for healthy relationships — both with others and herself? You’ve heard it before, and that’s because it’s true: It’s all about communication.

As someone who’s worked with teenagers for the last 18 years as a school counselor, this study is just one more reminder of the need for parents — and especially moms — to keep an open and honest relationship with their kids, and clear and consistent communication with their daughters in particular.

And while it may be tempting to give feedback and opinions on everything your tween or teen tells you, sometimes the best thing you can do is to just listen and focus on the positive. Try to make most communication constructive, rather than critical and — as much as possible amid all the tension that inevitably flies during the teen years — have frank, open, and nonjudgmental conversations when it comes to sex. It sure isn’t easy, but it’s incredibly important.

Keeping your ears open and your mouth quiet often leads our kids to come back to us when they have more questions or concerns later on. Speak too soon and too often, and they’ll go looking elsewhere for guidance.

That’s probably the most valuable thing I’ve learned these last 18 years as a school counselor and in the last 10 as a mother: We have to remember that being open to what our kids are telling us only works if we truly listen. Because listening to what they have to say before offering what we think they need to hear is what ultimately gives us invaluable insight into their lives, without even having to ask.

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