Parenting Practices and Adolescent Sexual Behavior: A Longitudinal Study

Article excerpt

The effects of parental attitudes, practices, and television mediation on adolescent sexual behaviors were investigated in a study of adolescent sexuality and media (N = 887). Confirmatory factor analyses supported an eight-factor parenting model with television mediation factors as constructs distinct from general parenting practices. Logistic regressions indicated that adolescents reporting greater parental disapproval and limits on viewing at Wave 1 were less likely to initiate oral sex between Waves 1 and 2. Adolescents who reported more sexual communication with parents were more likely to initiate oral sex. Results for vaginal intercourse were similar to those for oral sex. Coviewing was a significant negative predictor of initiation of sexual behavior. Parental attitudes and television mediation can delay potentially risky adolescent sexual behaviors.

Key Words: adolescent contraceptive behavior, adolescent sexual behavior, media, parenting.

Although national statistics indicate that the percentage of adolescents who report having engaged in sexual intercourse has decreased from 54% to 46% over the last decade (Centers for Disease Control, 2006), recent research suggests that youth may be supplanting one form of risky behavior with other potentially risky sexual behaviors such as oral sex (Mosher, Chandra, & Jones, 2005). For example, over half of adolescents aged 15-19 (55% of boys and 54% of girls) report having ever had oral sex, with a significantly greater proportion of older youth reporting having engaged in oral sex (71%) relative to younger teens (43%). These data give cause for concern, as research shows that oral sex places individuals at risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as human papillomavirus (HPV) and gonorrhea and may also be a greater factor in HIV transmission than previously thought (Edwards & Carne, 1998; Hawkins, 2001; Robinson & Evans, 1999). Given the prevalence and potential risks associated with both oral sex and vaginal intercourse such as unwanted pregnancy and STIs, it is important to understand the psychosocial factors that are predictive of involvement in these sexual behaviors in order to design effective prevention programs.

Several decades of parent-child research have identified an extensive set of familial factors and parenting processes that influence adolescent risky behaviors and development both directly and indirectly (see Maccoby & Martin, 1983; Miller, 2002). These variables include genetic influences, structural features, parenting practices and family management, parenting style, and emotional relationships. Studies have routinely found relationships between these parenting factors and adolescent sexual behaviors such as intercourse initiation and contraceptive use (see Kotchick, Shaffer, Forehand, & Miller, 2001; Huebner & Howell, 2003; Meshke, Bartholomae, & Zentall, 2002). Additionally, more than 25 studies on parenting and adolescent sexuality and sexual behavior have been presented or published using the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a large-scale national data set with in-depth information on child-parent relationships. Few studies, however, have explored the role of parental mediation of adolescent television viewing and its effect on sexual behavior. This is surprising given recent findings suggesting that sexual content on television has increased significantly over the past two decades (Brown, 2000) and adolescents' access and exposure to televised media is substantial. On average, children and adolescents watch about 21 hours per week (Robers, Foehr, & Rider, 2005). Additionally, recent evidence points to a relationship between exposure to sexual content on television and early sexual initiation among adolescents (Collins et al., 2004).

The current study builds upon previous research by examining whether parental mediation of adolescent television viewing (coviewing, discussion of television content, limitation of viewing) comprises constructs distinct from other, more general, parenting practices such as parental monitoring and parental communication. …