Among teenagers who have already had sex, 60 percent said they wish they had waited. And 90 percent of teens say they believe that providing young people with a strong abstinence message is important, a figure not much different from the 93 percent of adults who favor a pro-abstinence message. Teens also credit parents with being the most important influence in their lives on their decisions to have sex or to delay sexual activity. Nearly half (47 percent) credit their parents with influencing their decisions, more than friends (18 percent), religious leaders (7 percent), siblings (5 percent), teachers or sex educators (4 percent), or the media (3 percent). These figures have remained consistent in all the National Campaign's surveys.
According to the findings in this survey, which included a representative sample of more than 2,000 teens and adults interviewed by phone, both adults and teens believe it is important to discourage teenagers from sexual activity at least until they are out of high school. Eight out of 10 adults said such messages were very important, as did two-thirds of teenagers. But a majority of adults and teens also want information about contraception given to teenagers. However, nearly half of teens (46 percent) surveyed acknowledged that telling teens "don't have sex but if you do, you should use birth control or protection" actually encourages teens to have sex.
Given these findings, Bristol Palin's advocacy for teen abstinence is a good thing. She's a high-profile example of why all the best-laid plans sometimes go awry. Bristol got pregnant even though she and her former boyfriend admitted they usually used contraception. She may have thought she would marry the father of her baby, but they ended up breaking up after the baby was born. And now instead of being a college freshman enjoying an active social life, she's home taking care of her infant son.
At least Bristol has a support network to help her raise her child -- many unwed teen moms don't. If she can discourage even a few young girls from following in her footsteps, I think she deserves our praise, not the snickers she's been getting from some quarters.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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