Can better parenting reduce risk of unsafe teen sex?

June 12, 2009

Participating in more family activities may be associated with fewer risky sexual behaviors in teenagers, according to research published May 15 in Child Development.

Participating in more family activities may be associated with fewer risky sexual behaviors in teenagers, according to research published May 15 in Child Development.

Rebekah Levine Coley, PhD, of Boston College in Chestnut Hill, MA, and colleagues analyzed survey data from 3,206 adolescents, and their parents, who were followed for up to 4 years.

The researchers found that teens who participated in more family activities, and whose fathers were more aware of their friends and activities, had lower levels of sexual risk behavior in later adolescence. Youths reporting more sexual risk behaviors later described lower levels of parental knowledge and family activities. Their findings indicate that eating meals and participating in religious or other activities as a family may help protect youths from risky sexual behaviors.

"Results from the current research highlight the complex interplay of relationships between parents and their adolescent children, suggesting that engaged and involved parenting processes may serve an important protective role in limiting adolescent engagement in risky sexual activity, and that fathers may respond to youth risk behaviors with enhanced parental monitoring and knowledge," the authors conclude. "Given the notably negative potential repercussions of risky sexual activity during adolescence including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, these results suggest important implications, urging policies and practices that aim to increase parents’ oversight of and active engagement with their youth."

Coley RL, Votruba-Drzal E, Schindler HS. Fathers’ and mothers’ parenting predicting and responding to adolescent sexual risk behaviors. Child Development. 2009;80:808-827.