Teens whose parents set rules and keep tabs on their friends and whereabouts are less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, according to a new report. The research, published online Nov. 30 in Pediatrics, found that parental monitoring was associated with delayed sexual intercourse and increased use of contraceptives.
“Parents really matter, and they’re influential,” report co-author, Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD, co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, told HealthDay.
For the report, Guilamo-Ramos and his colleagues analyzed 30 studies from around the world. Published between 1984 and 2014, the studies looked at how such parental activities as knowing what their kids are doing and who they are with, or setting rules such as time spent with friends and where they could go affect teens’ sexual behaviors.
An NYU news release reports the research team found that across all 30 studies, teens with parents who set rules or monitored their activities had sexual intercourse later in life. Those whose parents monitored their activities were also more likely to use forms of birth control, but those whose parents set specific rules were not as cautious about contraception.
“When kids are sexually active, it’s less about setting clear rules and more about having a better relationship and better communications,” Guilamo-Ramos explained.
The research team acknowledged that while their study provides an association with making rules for teens or monitoring them more will reduce teen sexual behavior, it does not offer proof of cause-and-effect. Atika Khurana, PhD, an assistant professor of counseling psychology and human services at the University of Oregon, agreed.
It’s possible, for example, that kids who don’t do risky things communicate better with their parents about their lives, allowing more monitoring, Khurana told HealthDay. Still, she admitted, lots of research suggests that parental monitoring does matter.
Khurana said that one theory is that awareness and rules are “an indicator of a positive and supportive family climate that protects teens from negative outcomes. Also parents who solicit information from their teens about their friends or whereabouts send an implicit message to their teens that they care about them and their well-being.”
However, cautioned Khurana, research has also shown that overly strict rules can backfire, if kids see them as too controlling and rebel. “Parents always need to be mindful of their child’s growing autonomy needs,” she said.