The relationship between fathers and teens and the advice they give seems to strongly influence teen choices about sexual activity, according to a study just published in the journal Pediatrics.
The researchers, from New York University and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that dad's parenting behavior helps shape the sexual behavior of adolescent children. Research has long shown that parenting is closely linked with teenager's sexual health and reproductive outcome, according to a release from NYU about the study. But "it is mothers that, to date, have drawn most of the attention of researchers," it said.
What isn't clear is how fathers' parenting behaviors influence adolescent sexual risk behavior, the researchers said, noting that fathers are often studied in research as primarily an economic provider. When sexual behavior of teens is noted, it often focuses only on dad's influence on age at first sexual activity, they added.
"Evidence increasingly suggests that mothers and fathers independently shape areas of child development, such as academic success and peer relationships," the researchers wrote.
The study suggested that fathers' attitudes and the warmth of the parent-child relationship help shape a teenager's degree of sexual activity. For instance, teenagers appear to wait longer to become sexually active when they know their fathers don't approve of teenage sex.
The researchers noted that fathers' communication about sex had more impact on what his children did than implied attitudes about it. So fathers who talked directly to their children about sexual activity and what they believed had stronger sway than those who indicated feelings in other ways.
The research was built by examining 13 other studies of how fathers influence the behavior of children ages 11 to 18, using a broad definition of fatherhood that included biological fathers, stepfathers and adoptive fathers, as well as other men like uncles and grandfathers who serve as a primary father-figure/caregiver influence in the young person's life. They looked at the influence on both sons and daughters.
An article in U.S. News and World Reports noted some caveats to the association between dad's advice and sex, though. "The review only looked at a few studies because there's little research into the role of fathers — as compared to mothers — when it comes to the decisions that teens make about sex. And it's possible that some other factor could explain the apparent link between more fatherly communication and less sexual activity."
Still, "fathers do make a difference. It's not just about mothers," lead author Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, professor and co-director of New York University's Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, said.
A 2003 long-term study of fathers and children in the United States and New Zealand noted that a father's absence was strongly associated with higher likelihood of early sexual activity and teen pregnancy. That risk was not well explained by familial, ecological, and personal disadvantages associated with father absence. When the researchers controlled for other factors, they found "stronger and more consistent evidence of effects of father absence on early sexual activity and teenage pregnancy than on other behavioral or mental health problems or academic achievement,"
A Huffington Post piece by Karen Rowan, MyHealthNewsDaily managing editor, cited CDC survey data from 2011 that 47 percent of high school students had experienced sexual intercourse and that 40 percent of those currently sexually active did not take precautions to avoid pregnancy or disease spread.
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