Parents' Perspectives on Family Sexuality Communication from Middle School to High School

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018 Jan 10;15(1):107. doi: 10.3390/ijerph15010107.


Parents' conversations with teens about sex and relationships can play a critical role in improving teenage reproductive health by reducing teens' risky sexual behavior. However, little is known about how teen-parent communication changes from early to middle adolescence and how parents can tailor their communication to address their teens' changing development and experiences during these periods. In this longitudinal qualitative study, U.S. parents (N = 23) participated in interviews when their teens were in early adolescence, then again when the teens were in middle adolescence. Participants were largely mothers and were from diverse racial/ethnic and educational backgrounds. Thematic analysis was used to assess continuity and change in parents' perceptions of teen-parent communication. Findings showed that many parents adapted their conversations with their teens about sex and relationships as teens developed. Once teens had entered high school, more parents described feeling comfortable with their conversations. However, parents also more often reported that their teens responded negatively to the communication in high school than they had in middle school. These findings may help parents to anticipate their own as well as their teens' responses to family conversations about sex at different developmental time points and to strategize how to effectively talk with their teens about sex and relationships to improve their teens' overall reproductive health.

Keywords: adolescent development; family sexuality communication; teen-parent relationships; teenage reproductive health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior
  • Adolescent Development*
  • Adult
  • Communication*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers
  • Parent-Child Relations*
  • Parents / psychology*
  • Perception
  • Qualitative Research
  • Reproductive Health
  • Sexual Behavior
  • Sexuality*