Do smartphones lead to adolescent sexual behavior?

Teens with smartphones are twice as likely to be propositioned online for sex and 1.5 times more likely to engage in sexual relations than peers without smartphones, says recent research conducted on almost 2,000 California teens. With 58 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds now owning smartphones, should parents be worried?

This important research needs to be understood in the broader context of our teens’ sexual behaviors. Since the late 1980s, the abortion rate, birth rate and pregnancy rate of young women 15 to 19 years of age have all dramatically decreased. Since teenage pregnancy and parenthood are related to all kinds of serious economic and psychological problems, this is great news for our kids and for society.

These dramatic changes are due to two reasons. First, teens of all races, but particularly blacks and hispanics, are delaying sexual relations, says data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control. The percent of females 15 to 19 years old who have never had sex increased from 49 percent to 57 percent in the past 15 years.

The other significant factor is girls are using more effective birth control methods, typically pills or intrauterine devices.

Will increased Internet access change these positive trends? I suspect it won’t have any impact if the parents do the following.

1. Be cautious about giving a smartphone to your young teen. I’m frequently asked questions about the age that kids should access various technologies. The answer depends upon the maturity of your child. While we need to prepare our kids to live in a technologically sophisticated world, some young teens just can’t handle the freedom of unsupervised Internet access. Inform your child that you will monitor their amount of time they spend online and the sites that they visit.

2. Talk about sex with your teen. These should be ongoing conversations about a wide range of sexual issues — peer pressure, gay/lesbian issues, effective birth control, date rape, sexually transmitted diseases, oral sex and sexual abuse. In my office, kids are most interested in discussing a question that doesn’t have a simple answer: How do you know when you are ready for sexual relations?

Our kids are bombarded with these topics in the electronic world. If they are old enough for a smartphone, then they are old enough for these types of discussions.

Kids don’t like to be interrogated on such sensitive topics, so discuss these issues in the context of contemporary events. Talk about the gay students on “Glee,” the very public infidelity of the “Twilight” stars or the arrest of teachers having sex with their students.

Parents are doing a much better job in navigating these topics with their kids, and I’m confident that won’t change with kids having smartphones.

Next week: How to solve arguments with your spouse about the kids.

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