A parent talking with their teens about sex helps reduce risky behavior on the part of the teens, according to a review of previous research. Talking about sex with teens, especially when the mothers take part in the conversation, can influence teen behavior including more condom use, according to a new review.
But the study found that, while talks with parents are one important factor in helping teens make safer choices, it is not the only factor. The study found that the link between parent communication and teen sexual behavior was relatively small, according to Laura Widman of the Department of Psychology at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
The review article was a meta-analysis of 52 studies that included date from more than 25,000 teens. A meta-analysis combines the results from many similar studies to make a more powerful estimate of the size of the effect being studied. All the studies included teen reports of communication with one or both parents and of measures of safer sex behavior.
Teens who reported having these conversations with their parents tended to exhibit safer sex behavior and were more likely to use condoms or other contraception. The beneficial effect was seen to be strongest for girls and for teens who spoke to their mothers.
The conversations could be about substance use or abuse, peer pressure, and talking with dating partners about sex before engaging in sexual activity. There were no significant differences based on the topics parents discussed with their teens, the researchers reported.
"We know that parents tend to communicate more frequently with girls than with boys," Widman said in an interview with Reuters Health. "We also know that the messages parents share are more likely to stress the negative consequences of sexual activity, like pregnancy, when they talk with their daughters." Parents may need to increase how often they talk with their sons about sex and change the content of the messages surrounding sex that they communicate to boys, she said.
The study was published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.