Dads don't typically go ballistic when they find out
their teenage son or daughter is having sex. Instead, fathers
respond by becoming more involved in their childrens'
lives, according to a new study.
The study contradicts previous research that found parents
react with anger and detachment when they discover that their
teenage sons or daughters are sexually active — a reaction
that then can cause teens to take more sexual risks.
"Youth who engaged more regularly in activities with their
families and had fathers who were more knowledgeable about
their friends and activities thereafter reported lower average
levels of sexual risk behaviors in comparison to their peers
with less engaged parents," writes Boston College's Rebekah
Levine Coley, who headed up the research.
The study, published in the May/June issue of the journal
Child Development, examined "risky sexual behaviors"
and parenting methods among 3,206 teenagers ages 13-18 for
four years. The data was gathered via annual questionnaires
and assessed how youth and their families changed over time.
Risky sexual behavior was defined as the early initiation
of sexual activity, frequent sexual intercourse, multiple
partners, and inconsistent use of birth
Teens with involved dads reported 7 percent less sexual
activity than average. However, the researchers didn't
find that a father's increased knowledge did anything
to curb his child's actions.
still knew more about their kids' lives, and the study
found that they didn’t react strongly one way or another
to their children's sexual behavior. However, this could
be because mothers are already informed about their kids,
and dads' increased awareness is simply a matter of rising
to mothers' levels.
"Fathers also, on average, declined more in their parental
knowledge over time than did mothers, though this difference
was very small," Coley said.
The study also found that fathers didn't react differently
to sons or daughters. But girls responded more strongly to
their fathers' involvement and family activities than
did boys, and this home environment was more protective for
Family activities were the most important protective factor
against teen sex — teens who ate dinner with their families
and engaged in other types of family activities on a regular
basis had lower sexual risk behaviors than average. Interestingly,
households with higher incomes had lower average levels of
regular family activities.
Family activity level — and overall parental involvement
— was low for kids living with step-parents as well.
"Youth who lived with step-parents or who resided for some
portion of the study time in a single-parent household showed
notably higher average levels of sexual risk behaviors than
did their peers in stable and biological-parent families,"
"These results highlight the benefits of stable biological-parent
families, but also suggest that the quality of parenting is
important above and beyond the effects of family structure."