Father doesn't know best

Teenagers want to talk about sex, but not to their dads
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Fathers may think they are doing their offspring a favour by sparing them the embarrassment of talking about sex but, according to new research, they should think again.

A Harris survey on teenagers and promiscuity identifies fathers as the worst offenders in the approachability stakes. Britain's teenagers want to talk more openly about their sexual worries, but three in four feel unable to embark on such a conversation with their fathers.

Parents seem to be suffering in silence, too. While three in four parents say they worry about their teenagers having under-age sex, the same number never talk to their children about important sexual issues.

Even those who talk to their children about sex steer clear of fundamental issues, the survey reveals. Four in 10 parents who say they talk about sex have not mentioned contraception, and three in 10 have never spoken about AIDS. Eight in 10 have never discussed masturbation and the same number have never made any reference to oral sex.

"The majority of parents in Britain are leaving their kids' sex education to chance and letting them drift into early promiscuity," says Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Trust, which commissioned the survey, resident family specialist on GMTV, and author of the forthcoming book How to Succeed as a Parent.

"Most of the 8,000 under-16s who become pregnant every year in the UK never even wanted to have sex, let alone a baby," he adds. Rather, they had sex, he says, because they "didn't know how to say 'no'. It is a scandal that so many of Britain's parents are exposing their kids to this danger and not even bothering to discuss contraception with them."

Time, says Mr Chalke in the run-up to Father's Day, is the "greatest gift" a father can give his child.

Citing the experts' view that the average father spends three minutes- a-day in "quality" conversation with his children, Mr Chalke emphasises that he means "quantity time".

"Time to talk. Time to listen. Time to show you care," he says.

"If you want to diffuse the teenage time-bomb you have to start talking to them when they're toddlers ...The deep issues and important questions - the things that matter most to children - trickle out because a parent is there."

Four out of five teenagers feel unable to talk to their fathers about important issues, sexual or otherwise. They single out Gazza, Grant Mitchell of the soap opera, Eastenders, and Prince Charles as Britain's worst fathers. Why? Because they do not spend enough time with their children.

Chris Evans, David Wickes, from Eastenders, and Terry Duckworth, from Coronation Street, also fared badly.

The average child spends three hours a day watching television. Mr Chalke combines this fact with the apparent lack of communciation between parents and children and draws the obvious conclusion.

"Instead of being influenced by their parents, they're taking their lead from friends, TV and magazines. So the question isn't: 'Are your kids being brainwashed?' It's: 'What are your kids' brains being brainwashed with? If parents don't discuss sex properly they're risking their child's future."

The survey, which was carried out with 675 parents and 675 children in the UK, reveals that six out of 10 parents would be worried if their children were homosexual, and particularly fathers. "So why on earth can't they sit down and chat about it?" asks Mr Chalke.

The amount fathers worry about this issue varies regionally. Sixty-one per cent of fathers living in Wales and the Midlands would be worried, 54 per cent of those living in London and the South, and 53% of those living in Scotland and the North.

Working-class parents are most worried about their child being gay (61 per cent), while middle-class parents are least worried (48 per cent) about this eventuality.

In his book, Mr Chalke, himself a father-of-four, offers 10 "survival tips" on how to "thrive on" as opposed to "survive" parenting, starting with "be Realistic - There's no such thing as a perfect parent" and finishing with 10 things you should and should not say to your child.

Dos and don'ts of parenting

Ten things you SHOULD NOT say to your child:

1) "You're so stupid!"

2) "Sometimes, I wish you'd never been born!"

3) "If only you were more like your brother!" 4) "You could do so well, if only ..."

5) "Look at everything I've given up for you!"

6) "Act your age!"

7) "Don't be silly, there's nothing to be frightened of!"

8) "Wait until your father gets home!"

9) "You have no idea what you're talking about!"

10) "You always/never ..."

Ten things you SHOULD say to your child:

1) "I'm so proud of you, well done!"

2) "You're so thoughtful ..."

3) "You're clever to have worked that out!"

4) "I love you."

5) "What do you think about ...?"

6) "It's OK to cry."

7) "You tried your best, and that's what counts."

8) "It's OK to make mistakes."

9) "I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"

10) "I said NO!"

What the

survey found

Main points of survey:

Three out of four parents have been worried about their teenagers having under-age sex.

One in two teenagers have sex before 16.

Three in four parents never talk to their children about important sexual issues.

Three in four teenagers cannot talk to their fathers about important sexual issues.

Four in five teenagers cannot talk to their fathers about important issues (regardless of whether or not they are sexual).

Eight in 10 parents haven't discussed masturbation.

Eight in 10 parents haven't discussed oral sex.

Four in 10 parents haven't discussed contraception.

Three in ten parents haven't discussed Aids.