Year Published: 2020

Authors: Amanda M. Richer, M.A., Lisette M. DeSouza, Ph.D., Alicia Doyle Lynch, Ph.D., Jennifer M. Grossman, Ph.D.

mother and daughter in conversation

The Family, Sexuality, and Communication research team surveyed parents of high school students to explore changes to parent-teen communication about dating and relationships in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. They collected 328 surveys from parents throughout the U.S. from March to June 2020 using Amazon Mechanical Turk. 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. Parents were asked 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 research team found a significant drop in parent-teen communication about dating and relationships once COVID hit. Parents reported higher stress levels, which may have made it more difficult to bring up potentially awkward or embarrassing topics with their teens. The study also highlighted a change in gender roles among heterosexual parents. Mothers reported having fewer conversations with their teens about dating and relationships, and fathers reported monitoring their teens’ behavior more closely than before the pandemic. The increase in fathers’ monitoring may in part reflect fathers’ shift from working outside the home to being at home during the pandemic (61% of fathers made this transition compared to 39% of mothers).

Based on their findings, the research team encourages parents to continue finding ways to support conversations with their teens about dating, sex, and relationships. Whether or not teens return to in-person school, they may need help to re-envision sex and dating given new risks and physical distancing guidelines associated with the pandemic.

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