Parents' Reports of Sexual Communication with Children in Kindergarten to Grade 8

Article excerpt

We examined factors associated with parents' reports of three aspects of parent-child sexual communication, quality, frequency with which parents encouraged questions, and extent of communication, on each of 10 sexual health topics. Participants were 3,413 mothers and 426 fathers with children in kindergarten to grade 8. Parents' demographic characteristics, own sexual health education, knowledge and comfort talking about sexuality with their children, and ratings of the importance of comprehensive school-based sex education plus child gender and grade level were uniquely related to their self-reported sexual communication with their children, although different predictors were associated with various topics. These results highlight the need to include characteristics of parents, their children, and the communication itself in research on parent-child sexual communication.

Key Words: communication, parent-adolescent relations, parent-child relations, sexual attitudes, sexuality.

Most parents, adolescents, and sexuality educators in Canada and the United States believe that parents and schools should share responsibility for providing children with sexual health education (Byers et al., 2003a, 2003b; Croft & Asmussen, 1992; Weaver, Byers, Sears, Cohen, & Randall, 2002). Yet many parents and even more adolescents are not satisfied with the quantity of parent-child sexual communication or its quality or both (Byers et al., 2003a, 2003b; Feldman & Rosenthal, 2000; Weaver et al., 2002). This situation highlights a need to identify characteristics of better quality and more extensive parent-child communications about sexual health, especially parents of younger children. Researchers have focused on parents' communication with their adolescents even though sexualiy educators advise parents to start communicating with their children about sexual health from a young age.

In this study, we examined factors associated with parents' reports of the quality and extent of their communication about sexualiy with their préadolescent (elementary school age, grades K to 5) and young adolescent (middle school age, grades 6 to 8) children. Specifically, we drew on Jaccard, Dodge, and Dittus's (2002) conceptual framework, which identifies five components that affect parent-child sexual communication: the communication source (i.e., the parent), the communication recipient (i.e., the child), the communication itself (e.g., message content), the family context, and how the message is communicated. We assessed factors that represent the first three of these components.

Parental Source Characteristics

Parents' experiences receiving sexual health education from their own parents may influence their communication with their children. Although parents hope to do better (Geasler, Dannison, & Edlund, 1995), the sexuality education they provide resembles the level that they received from their parents (Fisher, 1990; Kniveton & Day, 1999; Lehr, Demi, DiIorio, & Facteau, 2005). We examined two aspects of the sexual health education parents had received from their own parents: their satisfaction with the education they received and whether they wished their parents had talked more to them.

Studies also have indicated that parents' perceptions of their own sexual knowledge and comfort talking about sexuality influence their communications about sexuality with their children (Croft & Asmussen, 1992; Raffaelli, Bogenschneider, & Flood, 1998). For example, Jaccard, Dittus, and Gordon (2000) found that the two most important reservations mothers had about discussing sexuality with their adolescent were related to knowledge and comfort: fear that they would be asked something that they do not know and embarrassment when talking to their adolescent about sexuality. Further, parents who have received sexual health education, and presumably feel more knowledgeable and likely more comfortable talking about sexuality, are more likely to communicate with their children about sexuality (King, Parisi, & O'Dwyer, 1993). …