Do Scare Tactics Work?

Kiera asks a great question “My husband and I just finished the online class with our twins (a great experience by the way, thank you) but I was surprised you didn’t talk more about STD’s.  I was expecting gross photos of diseased private parts to scare my kids off of sex.  Can you say why you didn’t include any?”

Scaring kids to avoid risky behaviors has been a popular strategy of sex educators for a long time.  The photo of a black, diseased lung of a smoker and the oozing, puss-filled sore of Syphilis, are forever embedded in our brains.  We chose not to include scare tactics in our online, sex-ed program because evidence shows them to be ineffective.

Some kids are easily affected by fear-based teachings, but they benefit more from empowering messages.  To teach kids to be scared of STD’s and sex, can teach them to be more fearful in all areas.  Fearful kids might avoid sex, but they also might avoid intimacy, individuality, saying “NO”, standing up to peer pressure, standing apart from the crowd, etc.  These kids are already thinking, “Sex sounds disgusting and I’m never going to do that” so to pile on extra fear, to something they’ve already decided not to do, isn’t helpful.  Focusing, instead, on what they CAN do is healthy, empowering and effective.  You CAN say no like you mean it.  You CAN use condoms to prevent against disease & pregnancy.  You CAN have an intimate relationship without sex.

Some kids parents WISH were more fearful!  These “act-first, think-second” kids can be exciting and nerve-racking to be around.  Parents of adventurous kids have been trying to scare them since they started walking (“Be careful, you’re going to fall, Mom’s leaving without you if you don’t come now,”).  It seems like fear would be a good thing for these kids, but they don’t internalize it.  They say, “Ok, Mom, I’ll wear a helmet” just to appease us, and take it off as soon as they are out of eyesight.  They don’t believe scary things will happen to them, so they just ignore the message.  A more effective strategy for these kids is to get them excited about alternatives.  Where do you see yourself in 5 years?  What do you hope to accomplish before you become a parent?  How could having sex get in the way of that?

The best way to prevent teen pregnancy, is parental involvement, education and inspiration. Parents can encourage their kids to dream about an exciting future:  Want to buy a horse?  Play in the NBA?  Learn to surf in Costa Rica? Give them the facts they need, talk about things as they come up, and remind them about the fun future that lies ahead.