Importance of Parent-Teen Connectedness

Given the impact that adolescent births and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have on individuals and society at large, it is important for adolescents to be given the knowledge, skills, and motivation to make healthy decisions. Previous research has shown that positive youth development (PYD) is effective for reducing teen pregnancy and STIs.1
PYD programs aim to provide adolescents with knowledge and skills to make healthy decisions and develop their natural strengths, teaching them that a hopeful future can result from good choices. Connectedness or “bonding”- i.e., stronger relationships between adolescents and their parents, peers, schools, and community groups- has been identified as one of the key elements in PYD programs. However, it is not completely understood how these different types of connectedness affect risky sexual behavior among youth.

In a recent review of over 190 published research articles that explore how connectedness influences adolescent sexual health,1 researchers identified eight different types of connectedness: family connectedness; parent-adolescent general communication; parent-adolescent communication about sexual topics; parental monitoring or regulation; peer connectedness; partner connectedness; school connectedness; and community connectedness. By primarily focusing on longitudinal studies, which are designed to show how a program affects health outcomes over time, the researchers could draw conclusions about how different types of connectedness are related to sexual health outcomes later in the lives of adolescents.
The collected research provided evidence that family connectedness, parent-adolescent general communication, parent-adolescent sexual communication, parental monitoring, partner connectedness (for females), and school connectedness are associated with delayed sexual initiation or protection against early sexual debut. While there is not enough evidence to determine the association of peer connectedness and adolescent sexual health outcomes, there is limited evidence that some types of peer connectedness could be a risk factor for adverse outcomes. For example, one longitudinal study showed that teens who report better relationships with their peers were more likely to have sex earlier than those who have poorer peer relationships.2 Parental overcontrol was the only measure of parental monitoring that indicated a risk to sexual health outcomes: teens who felt their parents were too controlling were more likely to say that they have ever had sex.3,4

Further research is needed to more clearly define relationships between connectedness and sexual health outcomes and to explore how well the findings of the collected research studies can be generalized to a broader population. However, current evidence suggests that parent connectedness can protect adolescents from sexual and reproductive health outcomes such as ever having sex, having a first sexual experience at a young age, contracting an STI, and becoming pregnant. Therefore, it is important for parents to stay involved in their teen’s life. Effective parenting and open communication can guide youth to healthier sexual decision making. Regular conversations on sexual health with their teens may be one of the most powerful tools against risky adolescent sexual behaviors.

References:

1. Markham CM, Lormand D, Gloppen KM, Peskin MF, Flores B, Low B, House LD. Connectedness as a predictor of sexual and reproductive health outcomes for youth. J Adolesc Health 2010;46(3):S23-S41.
2. Crockett LJ, Bingham CR, Chopak JS, Vicary JR. Timing of first sexual intercourse: the role of social control, social learning, and problem behavior. J Youth Adolesc 1996;25:89-111.
3. Upchurch DM, Anehensel CS, Sucoff CA, Levy-Storms L. Neighborhood and family contexts of adolescent sexual activity. J Marriage Fam 2001;63:920-933.
4. Forste R, Haas DW. The transition of adolescent males to first sexual intercourse: anticipated or delayed? Perspect Sex Reprod Health 2002;34:184-190

Reviewed: May 2010.

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