More Evidence Having “The Talk” With Kids Once Isn’t Enough
Ongoing sex ed is critical to shaping healthy adult attitudes to sexuality.
Having “The Talk” with kids can feel so awkward and uncomfortable for parents that the thought of doing it even once is daunting. But new research from Brigham Young University family life professor Laura Padilla-Walker adds further weight to the argument that when it comes to shaping teenagers’ attitudes towards healthy sexual behavior, one conversation is not sufficient.
In her study, just released in the Journal of Adolescent Health, Padilla-Walker found that ongoing communication about sex between parents and their adolescent children not only benefits the parent-child relationship, it also leads to safer sexual activity at age 21. The study did not address the impact on sexual behavior before age 21, arguably one of the riskiest times that parents are most concerned about.
“Our current culture is highly sexualized, so children are learning about sexuality in a fragmented way from an early age,” said Padilla-Walker. Indeed, as The Swaddle has pointed out many times, globally, on average, children are first exposed to online pornography by age seven, meaning that they are getting inaccurate information about human sexuality for years before most parents gather the courage to have one stilted conversation about sex.
“Research suggests that parents can be an effective means of teaching their children about sexuality in a developmentally appropriate manner, but that does not occur if parents only have a single, uncomfortable, often one-sided talk,” she added.
Over the course of 10 years, Padilla-Walker evaluated annual parent-child communication about sex among 468 14- to 18-year-olds and their mothers, plus 311 of their fathers. The study found that both teens and their parents reported relatively low levels of sexual communication, though teens reported even lower levels than their parents did. Those levels, for the most part, stayed constant.
In other words, teens consistently felt that the level of communication was low — which means. even if parents think they’re doing a good enough job, Padilla-Walker says, they should probably still increase their communication about human sexuality.
An increase in sexual communication between parents and children, she found, can help adolescents feel safe going to their parents with questions and concerns. She also found that ongoing sexual communication resulted in safer sexual activity at 21, a finding that should increase the urgency parents feel to have conversations with their children.
Even if parents don’t anticipate that their children will be sexually active before marriage, said Padilla-Walker, “all children are developing sexually and need continuous and high-quality communication with parents about the feelings they are experiencing.”
Talking to kids about sex, early and often, is the key to developing open lines of communication with them. As this research suggests, finding ways to have those age-appropriate conversations is a great building block for a healthy and open parent-child relationship, and it has a lasting impact on teens’ sexual behavior as they enter adulthood.