Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Understanding Parental Beliefs and Attitudes about Children's Sexual Behavior: Insights from Parental Style

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Understanding Parental Beliefs and Attitudes about Children's Sexual Behavior: Insights from Parental Style

Article excerpt

Parental style theory is used to explore how parents differ with regard to parental roles, attitudes, and perceptions about the consequences of teens engaging in sex. Findings from a survey of 150 parents indicate that parental style influences parents' attitudes and beliefs concerning teen sex. Also, since parents do not have confidence about conveying sex-related information to children, an opportunity may exist for empowering parents on how to discuss these topics with them. Such empowerment may be accomplished by provision of information to parents through health organizations and the government on how to engage in such conversations with children.


Most people begin having sexual intercourse during their teenage years (Moore et al. 1995). Even though significant dollars spent on condom promotion and sex education have resulted in a lower rate of unmarried teen pregnancy, teen pregnancy rates in the United States are twice those of other industrialized nations (Sawhill 2000). Over 40% of all women in the United States will become pregnant before the age of 20 and half of those will deliver the child (Sawhill 2000). Of these young women who give birth, the majority is unmarried and as a result will likely suffer significant negative economic and lifestyle consequences (Sawhill 2002). In the United States, billions of dollars are spent annually to address the problematic consequences that arise from teen pregnancy and teen exposure to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) (Centers for Disease Control 1995). Given such statistics, few would deny the importance of effective sex education.

The issue of sex education has become highly politicized in the United States (Arsneault 2001). For example, the federal government has spent over $500 million on abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs through 2001 (Young and Goldfarb 2000) and has earmarked over 100 million in additional dollars for these programs in 2005 (Sherman 2004).

These federal programs are part of an overall federal strategy to reduce teen pregnancy and the rate of infection of STDs that also includes condom promotion, testing for STDs, and prenatal care and postnatal counseling. Most of those dollars spent on promoting abstinence are targeted at programming that is aimed directly at young teens and preteens (typically 16 and younger), rather than at others, like parents, who may exert considerable influence over teens and their choices, especially given the prime importance of family dynamics regarding health-related conduct in family members (Tinsley, Lees, and Sumartojo 2004). For example, family structure variables such as single-parent versus two-parent families as well as ethnicity have been found to be related to offspring sexual activity and age at first sexual experience (Tinsley, Lees, and Sumartojo 2004).

Since users of consumer-related information undoubtedly include parents, it behooves these disseminating entities, e.g., public health organizations and the government, to fully comprehend the dynamics affiliated with those who are being targeted by these efforts in order to appreciate how such information is being received. While parents probably have an important role in socializing children toward adopting any particular lifestyle (e.g., Lynch 2002; Moore et al. 2002), little programmatic effort is being made to inform parents on the types of roles that they may or may not play in promoting to their offspring lifestyle choices having to do with sexual behavior. This is particularly important because while most sex education programs have been directed at adolescents, it is well understood that families can contribute to offspring learning in a variety of contexts that include health-related issues (Tinsley, Lees, and Sumartojo 2004). Despite this, such programming has rarely included families.

Thus, understanding these roles is important not only because of current government policy and programs but also because of parents' significance in other areas of consumer education (cf. …

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