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Mother and Daughter
Supporting Research

Relationship between parent-child communication and risk-taking behavior

Research has examined specifically how the process of parent-child communication about sexuality affects adolescents' sexual behaviors. Findings from this research suggest addressing three important areas: comprehensive messages, parental skill and sensitivity in discussing sexuality, and timing of communication.

  • More comprehensive or broader messages about sexuality delivered by mothers are associated with less sexual risk behavior among adolescents (Dutra, Miller, & Forehand, 1999)
  • Mothers who are skilled communicators about sexuality-related topics are more likely to discuss a broad range of topics with their adolescent and are more likely to be heard by their child during those discussions (Miller, Kotchick, Dorsey, Forehand, & Ham, 1998)
  • Parent-adolescent discussions about sex are most effective in reducing sexual risk behavior when these conversations occur before the first sexual encounter (Miller, Levin, Whitaker, & Xu, 1998)
  • Parents' discussions with their teens about sexuality and sexual risk were associated with an increased likelihood of teenagers discussing sexual risk with their partners – but only if parents were open, skilled, and comfortable in those discussions (Whitaker, Miller, May, & Levin, 1999)
  • Peer norms were associated more strongly with sexual behavior for adolescents who had not discussed sex or condoms with their parents than with those who had (Whitaker & Miller, 2000)
  • Family communication about sex and its potential risks has been found to relate to correct knowledge about sexuality and AIDS among adolescents (Carbasi, Greene, & Bernt, 1992; Pick & Palos, 1995)
  • Parent-adolescent communication about sex is associated with decreased sexual risk-taking behavior among adolescents (Dittus, Jaccard, & Gordon, 1999; Dutra, Miller, & Forehand, 1999; Karofsky, Zeng, & Kosorok, 2000; Kotchick, Dorsey, Miller, & Forehand, 1999; Leland & Barth, 1993; Miller, Levin, Whitaker, &  Xu, 1998)
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Parents Matter

Research indicates that parents play an important role in adolescent sexual risk reduction.


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