Family conversations with teens about sex can reduce risky teen sexual behavior. To be effective, these conversations about sex need to fit with teens’ developmental stage and experiences. However, most studies in this area focus on a single point in time, not accounting for how family communication changes as teens age. Research can help guide parents as to whether and how to talk with their children about sex in ways that are relevant for and accessible to teens at different developmental stages, particularly late adolescence, a time of sexual experimentation and risk-taking.
This study is the first in-depth, longitudinal examination of teen-parent sexuality communication over three key adolescent developmental periods. The study also examines how factors like teen gender and the gender match between a teen and parent shape family communication about sex and relationships. For example, parents share different messages with daughters than sons about sex.
This study builds on two prior studies. The first, funded by the WCW 35th Anniversary Fund, captured qualitative data from teens in 7th grade. The second study, funded by NICHD, captured qualitative data from the same sample of teens in 10th grade. In this study, researchers conducted a third wave of teen and parent interviews during late adolescence (age 18-22) with the same sample. The researchers interviewed 18 parents — 15 mothers and 3 fathers. Of the parents interviewed, 56 percent identified as Black/African American, 39 percent as White/Caucasian, and 6 percent as Hispanic/Latinx. The 18 late adolescents in the interview sample included 9 female teens and 8 male teens. Of teens interviewed, 61 percent identified as Black/African American, 22 percent as White/Caucasian, and 17 percent as Hispanic/Latinx.
This study contributes to public health by providing recommendations for parents, health providers, and educators as to how family sexuality communication can support teens’ health across multiple stages of adolescence, while accounting for family- and gender-based characteristics.