Dr. Grossman and her research team surveyed 328 parents of high school students throughout the United States from March to June 2020. The survey consisted of questions about parent-teen communication about dating and relationships, monitoring of teens’ activities outside the house, and parents’ level of stress. They asked parents to report on each of these experiences 1) before schools closed due to COVID-19 and 2) after schools closed due to COVID-19. The study is part of the Family, Sexuality, and Communication research initiative at WCW.
The researchers found that both mothers’ and fathers’ communication with their teens about sex and relationships decreased during COVID-19 compared to before COVID-19. This decrease in communication was bigger for mothers than fathers. Parents’ overall drop in communication with their teens about sex and relationships may reflect a drop in concern about teens’ dating and relationships during a time when many teens were not permitted to spend in-person time with friends or partners.
The researchers also found that parental stress increased across multiple areas, which may have made it more difficult to bring up potentially awkward or embarrassing topics with their teens. Parents’ and particularly mothers’ juggling of numerous responsibilities during COVID-19 (e.g., work, supporting teens’ schooling) may have also left them with less time and energy for communication than before.
Finally, the researchers found that both mothers’ and fathers’ monitoring of their teens’ activities outside the house increased during COVID-19 compared to before COVID-19, which may reflect parents’ increased concerns about teens’ in-person contact with friends due to the risks of the disease. This increase in monitoring was bigger for fathers than mothers, which could be related to the fact that more fathers than mothers transitioned from working outside the home to being in the home during COVID-19, and therefore had more opportunities to monitor their children’s behavior.