|Are Parents and Teens Talking about Sex?|
In April 2002, Seventeen Magazine and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a nationally representative survey of 15- to 17-year-old youth in the United States about sexual health communication between teens and their parents. The survey provides a snapshot of teens' views on the subject.
Survey results dovetail with the findings of peer-reviewed research into parent-child communication. The survey hints at two important issues that other research also addresses: parents discussing condoms with their teens before young people initiate sexual intercourse and differences in parent-child communication that shortchange young men.
Parents Discussing Condoms with Teens
A study of 14- to 17-year-old adolescents and their mothers underscores the importance of the timing of parent-child discussions about using condoms. Results showed that talking about condoms before first sexual intercourse significantly increases the likelihood of a young person's using condoms. The study found that maternal discussions about condoms in the year prior to first sexual intercourse are strongly associated with teens' using condoms while such discussions after teens initiated sexual intercourse are not.[2 ]
Gender Differences in Parent-Child Communication
Many studies found that mothers are significantly more likely than fathers to discuss sexuality with their children. In one study, just over 54 percent of students reported discussing HIV with a parent. Percentages varied little by race/ethnicity but varied significantly by gender—60 percent of female teens had discussed HIV with a parent compared to 49 percent of male teens. Another study found that mother-daughter discussions are more likely to include information on sexual health issues than are mother-son discussions. Father-daughter discussions about sexuality, while relatively infrequent, still outnumber father-son discussions regarding sexuality. The result—young boys and young men receive relatively little guidance and support from their parents in developing the skills they need to make healthy decisions about sex. Young men may also be receiving relatively little support in developing the values that will help them to build loving, responsible, committed, intimate relationships in adulthood.
Parents need to understand the critical importance of discussing sexuality with young people. Discussing condoms prior to first sexual intercourse doesn't "give kids permission" to have sex; it gives them permission to behave responsibly. And, leaving sons out of the conversation doesn't promote their maturity; it handicaps them.