My heart aches every time I see the data about teen sex -- 114 women murdered by intimate partners last year in Texas, another 15 million young people infected with sexually transmitted diseases every year, 20 percent of AIDS cases infecting college-aged young adults. We know what works in delaying teen sexual activity and preventing promiscuity, but researchers are hesitant to keep repeating the same simple recipe: parental involvement, good friends, strong faith, participation in church activities.

But, a just released report from Child Trends and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy not only added their data about the connections that correlate with teens delaying sex until after age 18; they also review the vast body of previous scientific research that corroborates their findings.

Specifically, teens are less likely to have sex before age 18 if their parents hold strong religious beliefs and explain them to their children, attend services together regularly, and are affiliated with a denomination. Further, those teens who worship with their family and have a strong mother-teen relationship are more likely to delay having sex. In addition, teens with a network of friends from their church are much more likely to resist early sexual activity.

The Child Trends research, of course, analyzes the data and shows the correlations, as is necessary and desirable for such analyses. The bottom line, though, is that parents and friends have tremendous influence on their children regardless of socio-demographic or economic background and characteristics.

The relationship that parents establish with their children determines -- to a very large extent -- the outcomes for children. Further, peer influence is vitally important; during the teen years, especially, having friends who attend the same church produces positive effects on teen sexual behavior.

The Child Trends brief ends with a statement that "future research should focus on gaining a better understanding of why parent religiosity affects teens' decisions about sex." In fact, general agreement on this point is so widespread that in 2001 the Lilly Endowment Inc. funded a four-year study to identify those religious, social and moral practices that so effectively shape young people's lives.

Pending the publication of the Lilly findings, here are some possible explanations.

Parental Religious Beliefs: It is a "given" that parents influence their children's outcomes. However, a 2000 study from the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology explains just how very important both doing and explaining are when it comes to influencing our children toward our own values and beliefs. The author of the study, Lynn Okagaki, reported that children are more likely to adopt their parents' beliefs when they have a clear understanding of exactly what the parents believe and what are their values.

Further, the study reported that a child is more likely to adopt parental beliefs when they know that the beliefs are vitally important to the parents. In other words, if parents think something is unimportant or if parents say that many different religious attitudes and positions are equally important, the child is unlikely either to have strong religious beliefs or have those beliefs influence their behavior.

Religious Attendance: Abundant research -- from various top-level universities and government agencies to research institutions like the Barna Research Group -- documents that active church participation is the key to raising well-adjusted, happy children who have a life-long moral compass and avoid the typical pitfalls of the teenage years. When researchers try to isolate "what works" in terms of raising children, invariably they find this key: "active participation" in a "faith community." In an analysis of the Adolescent Health Survey last year, the Heritage Foundation's Patrick Fagan found that girls from intact families who attended church regularly averaged only .47 sex partners, whereas girls from broken families that never attended church averaged 1.55 sex partners.