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According to a new government report, fewer high school aged teens are having sex, and when they do, they are more likely to use contraception. The National Center for Health Statistics reports that sexual intercourse among teens has declined after rates stabilized between 2002 and 2010. The new study shows that just over 40 percent of boys and girls reported having had sexual intercourse by age 18, a significant decline since 1988 when the number peaked at 57 percent of teens between the age of 15 and 19 reported having sex. The report on teen sexual activity and contraceptive use was released Thursday by the CDC.
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The social landscape of today looks very different from when we were kids, largely because of social media. We the parents need to educate ourselves and stay closely connected to our kids to help them navigate the perks and pitfalls of the social web.

According to a report by Common Sense Media, 75 percent of American teenagers have profiles on social networking sites.

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It’s no wonder. Kids today are born into a digital social culture, leaving fingerprints in cyberspace while they are still in utero through posts by family and family friends.

Research shows that 92 percent of kids in America have an online presence before the age of two because of their parents’ posting habits, which includes an average of nearly 1,000 photos posted online before the child turns five.

According to a report by Common Sense Media, 75 percent of American teenagers have profiles on social networking sites. (Photo: William Howard/Getty Images)

Studies are popping up more and more sounding an alarm about the dangers of social media for young people. Problems include sleep deprivation, cyber bullying, sexting, depression and disconnection from reality (to name a few). And although these hazards are real and significant, social media can also be a powerful tool for good.

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For one thing, it has made us all more aware of the world community. We have a front row view of other cultures and a wide range of viewpoints. Social media has also given the little guy a voice and a method for creating change. Even kids can make a difference by raising awareness about issues that affect them and recruiting help for their causes.

In spite of its many challenges, social media also offers parents a unique opportunity that parents of earlier generations didn’t have. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and all of their digital counterparts are a window into our teens’ social world. They allow us to see them as their friends see them, and as they want their friends to see them. Social media can help us discern what our kids value and what their friends’ value, and it can open discussions about how they (and their friends) are presenting themselves to the world.

 (Photo: Contributed)

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Navigating our kids’ social media usage can be a tough balancing act for parents. On the one hand, we don’t want to be hovering helicopters, micromanaging our kids or intruding into their private worlds. For some kids, having mom and dad lurk in their social media profiles is tantamount to their parents reading their diary entries. Except, the truth is, they are not the same. A diary is hidden in a secret place in a child’s room. An Instagram profile is published to a widespread and often global audience, and kids need guidance.

So how do we stay connected and aware without becoming intrusive?

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There’s no easy answer, but one thing is sure — we have to tread carefully and keep our motives pure. Our goal is to connect with our kids and mentor them, not to criticize or condemn them or their friends. Social media offers parents an opportunity to open up conversation with our kids, listen to their thoughts and motives and fears and help them make empowering decisions about the digital identity they are developing.

Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman host POP Parenting, a one-hour weekly talk radio show in Sarasota, Florida. For more information, go to www.jenniandjody.com, visit the Jenni and Jody Facebook page or follow them on Twitter @JenniandJody.

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