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Oct 19, 2012 by APRIL McCARTHY
When It Comes To Sexual Behavior As a Teenager, Dad Makes a Difference


A new study by New York University professor Vincent Guilamo-Ramos and colleagues suggests that fathers’ parenting behavior influences the sexual behavior of their adolescent children. However, to date most parent-based research on adolescent sexual risk behavior has neglected the role of fathers, a missed opportunity to contribute to their adolescent children’s health and well-being.


While it is well-established that parenting is closely linked with a teenager’s sexual health and reproductive outcomes, it is mothers that, to date, have drawn most of the attention of researchers, according to the study published by Pediatrics. Guilamo-Ramos is professor of social work and co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work.

Far less is known, the study found, about how fathers’ specific parenting behaviors influence different areas of adolescent sexual risk behavior. The study, “Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review,” states that the majority of research that looks at the role of fathers tends to conceptualize their influence with limited perspective, viewing them as an economic provider chiefly, or looking mainly at whether or not they are present in the home. Additionally, most studies tended to examine father influence on only one area of adolescent sexual risk behavior, sexual debut.

Norton School researchers have previously shown that quality parenting skills by dads reduces the incidence of risky sexual behavior by their daughters. When it comes to girls and their decisions about sex, it turns out a father's influence really does matter," says Bruce J. Ellis, the study's lead author and the John and Doris Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting, and Families at the UA Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences.

"Girls who receive lower quality fathering tend to engage in more risky sexual behavior in adolescence. We know that poor fathering and daughters' risky sexual behavior go together, but we haven't known why and haven't known how. Our study was meant to figure out that issue," he said.

The study in Pediatrics calls for more, and more rigorous, research, and depicts the current shortage of father-specific studies as a passed-up chance to improve the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents. The absence of sufficient father-focused research also contributes to a lack of understanding of the ways that fathers may differ from mothers in how they monitor, supervise, and communicate with their teenage children, and how they can make a greater difference.

The authors provide recommendations for primary care providers and public health practitioners. These recommendations deal with how better to incorporate fathers into interventions designed to reduce sexual risk behavior at a critical developmental stage associated with risk-taking and negative outcomes, from sexually transmitted diseases to unwanted pregnancy.

A father's love contributes as much -- and sometimes more -- to a child's development as does a mother's love. That is one of many findings in a new large-scale analysis of research about the power of parental rejection and acceptance in shaping our personalities as children and into adulthood.

When it comes to the impact of a father's love versus that of a mother, results from more than 500 studies suggest that while children and adults often experience more or less the same level of acceptance or rejection from each parent, the influence of one parent's rejection -- often times the father's -- can be much greater than the other's.

Successful father-based interventions, the study says, potentially represent an additional mechanism to influence teen sexual behavior and thus expand the opportunity to support adolescent health and well-being.

April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.

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