Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Preadolescent Parenting Strategies and Teens' Dating and Sexual Initiation: A Longitudinal Analysis

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Preadolescent Parenting Strategies and Teens' Dating and Sexual Initiation: A Longitudinal Analysis

Article excerpt

In this article we examine the effects of preadolescent parenting strategies on timing of adolescents' dating and sexual initiation. Using data from the 2 waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (1987-1988 and 19921994) involving interviews with parents as well as adolescents 4 years later, we estimate the effects of preadolescent parental support, coercive control, and monitoring on the timing of teens' dating and sexual initiation. We also examine how adolescents' gender, race, family structure, and socioeconomic background affect relationships between earlier parenting strategies and adolescent dating and sexual debut. We find evidence for the effect of preadolescent parental monitoring, though relatively little connection between parental support and coercive control, and variations in the timing of adolescent dating and sexual initiation. The findings suggest that parental monitoring prior to the onset of adolescence is important as a basic foundation for young people who later must make behavioral choices outside of parental purview.

Key Words: adolescent sexual debut, parental control tech

niques, parental support, parent-child socialization.

A growing body of research has examined factors associated with adolescent dating and sexual initiation. These factors include the peer group (e.g., Brazzell & Acock, 1988; East, Felice, & Morgan, 1993; Giordano, 1995; Miller et al., 1997), dating partners (e.g., Giordano, Longmore, & Manning, 1998), and community characteristics (e.g., Billy, Brewster, & Grady, 1994; Brewster, 1994; Lauritsen, 1994; South & Lloyd, 1992). Clearly, parents also influence adolescents' dating and sexual behaviors (e.g., Gray & Steinberg, 1999; Rosenthal, Feldman, & Edwards, 1998). In contrast to the influence of peers, dating partners, and community factors, parents are nonreplaceable significant others who are responsible for the primary socialization of children and adolescents. Gray and Steinberg note that "parents influence the development of general social competence and skills, which gain expression in the behaviors adolescents adopt in romantic relationships" (p. 254). Consequently, adolescents' dating and sexual behaviors may vary as a function of parental socialization strategies. In this article, we argue that because of their importance in the development of social competencies, parenting strategies prior to the onset of adolescence may affect teens' dating and sexual behavior.

Research suggests that parental control, monitoring, and supervision of adolescents influence dating and sexual attitudes and behaviors (Dornbusch et al., 1985; Hogan & Kitagawa, 1985; Miller, McCoy, Olson, & Wallace, 1986). Similarly, parental closeness and support influence adolescent sexual attitudes and behavior (Raffaelli, Bogenschneider, & Flood, 1998; Weinstein & Thornton, 1989). Most of this research, however, examines the adolescent period, when dating, and perhaps sexual activity, are already underway.

What has not been examined are the effects of preadolescent parenting strategies on adolescents' dating and sexual initiation. This is surprising, because scholars have argued that by adolescence the groundwork of parental socialization is nearly complete; consequently, adolescence can be thought of as a time of testing parents' earlier socialization techniques (e.g., Gecas & Seff, 1990). Similarly, we argue that parenting strategies prior to the onset of adolescence provide a basic foundation for young people who must later make behavioral choices regarding dating and sexual activity outside of parental purview.

We believe it is important to understand how these earlier parenting strategies influence both dating and sexual debut and to examine these activities both separately and in tandem. First, understanding the onset of adolescent sexual activity, whether or not an adolescent has dated, is important because of the association of early sex with less frequent contraceptive use, potentially more frequent sexual activity, and greater numbers of sexual partners (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1994). …

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