How watchful parenting could cut teens' sexual behaviour
Kids whose parents set rules and monitored them had sexual intercourse later in life, review suggests.
"Parents really matter, and they're influential," said report co-author Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University's Silver School of Social Work.
The study authors said that statistics suggest that hundreds of thousands of U.S. teens become pregnant each year, and more than 75 per cent of the pregnancies are unplanned. Sexually transmitted disease is another risk for teens and young adults: Research shows that in 2012, people aged 20 to 24 had the highest rate of new infections with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
The investigators found that kids whose parents set rules and monitored them — kept an eye on what they were doing and who they were with — had sexual intercourse later in life. Those whose parents monitored them were also more likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control, but making rules didn't seem to have an effect on that front.
Due to the designs of the studies, the researchers couldn't tell if parental monitoring or rule making directly caused kids to be more cautious about sexuality. Other factors could explain the apparent connections in the statistics.
While the new report doesn't show "anything new except that a number of papers show that monitoring works," the findings do "give parents the green light to parent," said Dr. Richard Rupp, chief of adolescent and behavioral medicine at University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston.
In general, he said, research shows that parents can do three effective things to delay sexual activity in teens: They can model good behavior in their own actions, communicate with their kids, and keep an eye on them.
"Perhaps the clearest is for driving, probably because it is a rather simple behavior," he said. "Parents communicate to their kids to be safe and the family rules for driving, and the consequences of unsafe driving. Parents then monitor and control the keys."
But how do these kinds of parental strategies actually affect what kids do?
Khurana said that one theory is that awareness and rules are "an indicator of positive and supportive family climate that protects teens from negative outcomes. Also, parents who solicit information from their teens about their friends or whereabouts send an implicit message to their teens that they care about them and their well-being."
Guilamo-Ramos said it's important to avoid being unfair and harsh. "When it starts to get problematic is when it's controlling and doesn't reflect that young people have to weigh in and provide their perspective," he said.