Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Effects of Divorced Mothers' Dating Behaviors and Sexual Attitudes on the Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors of Their Adolescent Children

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

The Effects of Divorced Mothers' Dating Behaviors and Sexual Attitudes on the Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors of Their Adolescent Children

Article excerpt

Although there have been numerous studies documenting the association between family structure and adolescent sexual behaviors, we still know very little about the specific mechanisms through which parents' marital status affects the sexual activities of adolescents (Hayes, 1987). Research on family configuration and adolescent sexuality has rarely gone beyond reiterating that an association exists and then interpreting the results in terms of various theoretical explanations (Brooks-Gunn & Furstenberg, 1989; Hayes, 1987). This research examines the effects: of divorced mothers' dating behaviors and attitudes of sexual permissiveness on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of their adolescent children.

The influence of parents' marital status on the sexual development of adolescents is well established. Young people who live in single-parent households engage in sexual activity at younger ages and more frequently than those from intact two-parent families (Forste & Heaton, 1988; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; Miller & Moore, 1990; Newcomer & Udry, 1987; Zelnik, Kantner, & Ford, 1981). The effects of parents' marital status are persistent even when other important predictors such as race, religiosity, age, and social class are controlled (Day, 1992; Miller & Bingham, 1989; Miller & Moore, 1990).

One explanation for the effects of family configuration-on adolescent sexuality suggests that adolescents in single-mother households are made more are of their mothers' sexuality than those in intact two-parent households because of their mothers' dating relationships. As single mothers reestablish their social lives after divorce, begin dating, and initiate new intimate relationships, their sexual attitudes and behaviors may become more apparent to their teenaged children. Such adult behaviors may be particularly salient at this developmental stage because adolescents are contending with many of the same issues in their own lives. Like their single mothers, they may be making choices about whom to date and making decisions about their sexual values and behaviors. Adolescents, therefore, are very likely to model such adult behaviors in their own early romantic relationships.

In one of the few studies actually examining modeling effects, Thornton and Camburn (1987) found that in the process of adjusting to single life, divorced mothers develop less restrictive attitudes towards sexual behaviors than women who remain in intact marriages. Similarly, adolescent daughters perceived their divorced mothers to be more sexually permissive than daughters in intact families, and, in turn, were more sexually active themselves. It is noteworthy that the effects were strongest in families where mothers had gone through the courtship process and remarried. Inazu and Fox (1980) also found that daughters of mothers who had cohabited were more likely to be sexually active;

Although these studies point to potential modeling of mother's attitudes by daughters, the role of mothers' dating behaviors has not been addressed. Moreover, the findings of these earlier studies seem to indicate that mothers' attitudes affect only their adolescent daughters. The present study examines the effects of mothers' dating behaviors and attitudes about sexuality on the sexual attitudes and behaviors of both sons and daughters.

HYPOTHESIZED MODEL

A fully recursive path model (see Figure 1) was hypothesized to investigate the effects of mothers' dating behaviors and attitudes about sexuality on their adolescent children's sexual attitudes and behaviors. (Figure 1 omitted) It was hypothesized that mothers' dating behaviors would have a positive effect on adolescents' sexual behavior (arrow A). This direct effect would indicate a direct modeling influence of observed parental behaviors on adolescent behaviors. From this point of view, mothers' dating behaviors model sexually appropriate behaviors. As the adolescent observes that these behaviors are emotionally rewarding to his or her mother, he or she is more likely to engage in similar behaviors (Bandura, 1977). …

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