How do I stop my teen from having sex?

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QUESTION: Our daughter is 14 and has got into a group of girls at school that I believe are a bad influence on her. I'm pretty sure most – if not all of them – are sexually active and have other questionable values, whereas she has been taught at church to save herself for marriage.

I've seen other parents struggle to maintain influence over their child in the face of peer pressure. Do you have some wise advice on how to convince girls to stay virgins?

ANSWER: You may be aware that, from around the age of 12, adolescents are trying to answer the hugely important question: "Who am I?" 

One part of this includes thinking about and working out their sexual identity. Another is developing a positive body image.

These struggles often involve some experimentation and sometimes that takes them into risky behaviours as they try out different roles and seek to understand what they mean and whether they are any good at them. It's a scary and challenging time indeed for parents!

Given you're fearing negative peer pressure, observe any behavioural changes in your daughter: does she seem anxious, frustrated, secretive or guilty? Has her schoolwork deteriorated?

A young person's social circle has a significant impact on their likelihood to engage in teenage sex, however we also need to consider that teens who are open to sexual activity seek out like-minded friends, so the direction of influence is not necessarily as you believe.

Check out if she still has contact with old friends and, if not, whether she thinks about them and how she feels about them now. Keep in mind that television and magazines are other sources of pressure.

Your task is to help her clarify her own values and come to understand that making hard decisions is part of growing up.

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Explain that it takes courage to say "no" and encourage her to find and follow her own instincts about what anyone tries to persuade her to do.

Her task is to learn to be her own person, standing up for what she believes is right, because this is what will make her feel good about herself. She needs to know you will be alongside her, open to discussions as she learns to make her own decisions, rather than imposing your will on her.

Robyn Salisbury is a clinical psychologist.

- Sunday Magazine NZ