According to a recently published study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, active parental efforts to acquire knowledge and to control adolescent activity (i.e. through enforcement of rules about dating) late in the middle school years may be effective in reducing adolescents’ risk of initiating sexual activity, even into the high school years.
Even with advancements, reproductive and sexual health consequences continue to be experienced by adolescents in the United States. For instance, out of the 1.4 million people who suffered from Chlamydia in 2014, 39% were between the ages of 20 and 24, and 26% were between 15 and 19 years of age. Further, in 2014, the teen birth rate in the US continued to be one of the highest out of all developed countries, despite advancements.
There is a well-established link between parental monitoring and adolescent health. Previous research has persistently shown that parental monitoring is associated with reduced sexual initiation, decreased pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD) and increased condom and contraceptive use in adolescents. Moreover, studies suggest that parents monitor activities of adolescents through obtaining information, parental control and disclosure by youth, which enhances parents’ knowledge of youth activity resulting in reduced risk behaviour. Still, evidence on the effect of these parental monitoring efforts on adolescents’ sexual behaviour is unclear.
Regarding the development of sexual behaviour, sexual activity is initiated by the vast majority (64%) of adolescents by 12th grade in the United States. Evidence from studies indicate that the time during which parental monitoring occurs may be significant in preventing risk behaviour; the transition from middle school to high school is important when it comes to initiation of sexual activity, with 30% of all teenagers in grade 9 reporting to have had sexual intercourse. However, empirical knowledge on the effect of parental monitoring on adolescent’s sexual behaviour in the long run and whether parental monitoring at earlier ages has long term effects is sparse. Thus, a team of researchers conducted a study to examine how adolescents’ perceptions of their parents’ monitoring are associated with initiation of sexual activity throughout their transition from middle school to high school. They further investigated the various processes involved in effective parental monitoring (e.g., parental knowledge, parental solicitation, youth disclosure and parental control) and how these processes are linked to adolescent sexual activity. The study involved an investigation of 533 Latino adolescents who had not yet had sexual intercourse in eighth grade and were examined via surveys every year through 10th grade.
The findings, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that adolescents in 8th grade who had family rules related to dating and who viewed their parents as being knowledgeable about their activities had a lower probability of initiating sexual activity throughout the transition from middle to high school (i.e. between 8th and end of 10th grade). Accordingly, active parental efforts to obtain knowledge and to control adolescent activity (i.e. through enforcement of rules) at earlier ages can be effective in reducing adolescent risk behaviour, even into the high school years. Additionally, the study demonstrated multiple processes involved in parental monitoring, including exchange of information through youth disclosure and parental solicitation, rules regarding time spent with friends and potential sex partners, which were significant ways by which parents obtained knowledge, although they were not directly linked to adolescent sexual activity. Likewise, relationship satisfaction was associated with enhanced parental knowledge, and adolescents were more likely to exchange information with their parents and contribute to parental knowledge if they felt satisfied with their relationships with their mothers.
The overall findings suggest that parental monitoring efforts through remaining knowledgeable about their children’s activities, as well as placing boundaries around romantic relationships and friends, have a significant influence on whether their children initiate sexual risk behaviour. Also, monitoring must begin early and when it does, the effects are long term. In fact, parental monitoring that occurs at the end of the middle school years may prevent initiation of sexual activity through the transition to high school. Lastly, these findings offer a way for interventions to widen their focus, to offer strategies for exchange of information between adolescents and parents and to include enforcement of rules regarding dating. Interventions that increase youth disclosure by promoting the relationship between the mother and the youth, and offer strategies for enhancing parental solicitation of information, may be more likely to reduce sexual activity among youth.
Written By: Nigar Celep, BASc