Parents who talk to their teens about sex promote safer behavior
A new study from North Carolina State University has investigated the success of programs aimed at helping parents to communicate with their children about sex. The researchers found that parent-based interventions do not make adolescents more likely to engage in sexual activity, and often lead to safer sexual practices.
“People have been studying parent-based sexual health interventions for decades, and we wanted to know how effective they are; as well as whether there are specific features of these interventions that make them more effective,” said study first author Professor Laura Widman.
The team analyzed the results of 31 trials, involving more than 12,000 adolescents between the ages of 9 and 18. Among the studies examined, 16 had follow-up periods of more than a year.
One of the most widespread effects identified in the meta-analysis was an increase in condom use by adolescents whose parents took part in an intervention. This effect was found to be the strongest among adolescents aged 14 or younger and Black or Hispanic youths. In addition, interventions that targeted parents and adolescents equally were more effective in promoting the use of condoms.
“These are variables that make sense intuitively: reaching kids when they’re younger and, often, more willing to listen; involving both parents and adolescents; spending more time on the subject matter – none of those are particularly surprising,” said Professor Widman. “However, it’s good to see that the data bears this out.”
According to the study, interventions did not have an influence on when adolescents became sexually active.
“In other words, the kids who were taught about sexual health did not become sexually active any earlier than kids who were not part of the interventions – but kids who were part of the interventions were more likely to use condoms when they did become sexually active,” explained Professor Widman.
The researchers also identified some areas that could be explored in future intervention research.
“For example, we found only one intervention that targeted fathers, and it worked very well,” said Professor Widman. “Similarly, there was only one intervention aimed specifically at parents of sons, which also worked very well. This suggests that it may be worthwhile to pursue broader efforts to assess the effectiveness of gender-specific interventions for parents and adolescents.”
“What’s more, we found that there is a dearth of information on the effectiveness of online interventions. That’s definitely an area ripe for future study.”
The study is published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.
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