Risky Business: Parents' Behaviour Predicts Teens' Sexual Behaviour

kissingA four-year study published in the current issue of Child Development examined a number of parenting behaviours to find links to sexually risky behaviour in teens. Rebekah Levine Coley and her colleagues noted that 66% of youth have had sex by the age of 18, with some studies showing that more than 25% of adolescent girls aged 14-19 have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). With estimates that 750,000 teen girls becoming pregnant every year in the U.S., high-risk sexual behaviours among teenagers are major concerns for parents.

The researchers examined yearly data from over 3200 teens and their parents. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their findings suggested that the relationships between parents’ and teens’ behaviour is a two-way street. One of their significant findings was that family activity was predictive of a reduced number of risky sexual behaviours! Teens who regularly participated in family dinners, fun family activities, and religious events were less likely to report sexual risk behaviour than those with less family involvement. Fathers’ (but not mothers’) knowledge of adolescents’ friends and activities was also related to lower levels of sexually risky behaviours; the researchers suspected that fathers react to teens’ sexual behaviour with increased supervision, resulting in greater knowledge of behaviour and friends. Teens who were more sexually active tended to be more secretive – their parents know less about their friends and activities.

Although the researchers admit that, despite their careful analysis and statistical complexity of the analyses, their findings are not causal, these results certainly support the idea that family connectedness and activities can have a positive impact on teen behaviour. Way back in Episode 6 of The Family Anatomy Podcast, we talked about other studies examining the positive impact of family dinners. One of the studies we discussed suggested that teens whose families often have dinner together were more committed to school, had more positive values, had a more positive self-image, and were better off socially. In January, a special issue of New Directions for Child and Youth Development listed five “core skills for positive teen development” (we discussed the skills here). Their list included a positive self-image, a moral system, and social connections. Together, the findings of Cohen and colleagues and the previous research on the impact of family dinner suggest that shared family activity, including family dinners, may be extremely valuable elements of teen development.

You can read the Child Development study here.

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