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The Role of the Family Structure and Communication in Early Sexual Debut

The aspects of parent-adolescent relationships that have been related to adolescent problem behaviors, such as monitoring, communication, and quality of relationship, will be further explored related to risky sexual behavior in adolescent females. 

As a New York psychologist, I am aware that the most studied aspect of family structure to be examined with respect to adolescent sexual attitudes and behaviors is parental monitoring and supervision (Kirby, 2002).  Both of these aspects are important techniques for parents to learn in therapy in New York.  Parental control related to parental supervision is the proactive limits that parents enforce with their children in order to promote respect of rules and social convention (Claes et al., 2005).  Control involves parents establishing rules and limits that will not be broken, supervision of children, and the accuracy of information parents have about their adolescents’ lives.  Parental monitoring or adolescents’ behaviors, another technique to learn in therapy in New York, has been associated with a delay of sexual debut and a decrease in sexual risk-taking behaviors measured by the number of sexual partners and the consistency of contraceptive use (Nagamatsu, Saito, and Sato, 2008; Rodgers, 1999). 
Early sexual debut has been found to be influenced not only by the adolescent’s internal factors such as self-regulation, but also by contextual factors including parental control (Raffaelli and Crockett, 2003).  This longitudinal study showed that adolescents with low parental control were more likely to initiate sex at an earlier age, independent of their personality factors.

While these studies have shown strong correlations between parental monitoring and decreasing sexual risk-taking and delaying sexual debut they all relied on questionnaires given to adolescents.  This leads to potential misrepresentations of perceived parental monitoring, as well as potential inaccurate reporting of sexual attitudes and behaviors.  As a New York psychologist, I realize that the short-comings of self-report measures may result in inaccurate representation of sexual experiences or differences in perception of sexual experiences.  In addition, a majority of the samples in these studies included adolescents in high school, with the ages ranging from 13- to 19-years-old, whereas only one of the studies included adolescents as young as 12 years of age.  This leaves the role of parental monitoring with these younger adolescents, most at-risk with sexual debut, less clear.  This is an important population for New York psychologists to treat.

Despite almost a third of teenage females approving of sex at age 16 or younger, the majority are not discussing these issues with their parents (Abma et al., 2004).  Improving parent-child communication is another important goal of mine as a New York psychologist. The National Survey of Family Growth presented national estimates through in-person interviews with civilian, non-institutionalized persons in the United States.  Interviews were conducted with 7,643 females, 1,150 of whom were teenagers, and 4,928 males, 1,121 of whom were teenagers.  Just over half (51%) of 18 to 19 year old females had talked to parents about how to say “no” to sex, exactly half had talked about methods of birth control, and less than half (48%) had talked to parents about sexually transmitted diseases (Abma et al., 2004).  One can speculate that if only about half of 18 and 19 year old females are discussing sex with their parents, even fewer females under age 15 are doing so.  This is alarming, and I hope to address this with my clients during therapy in New York.

Another important research study to know when providing therapy in New York, is a survey conducted with 902 mother-adolescent pairs in Alabama, New York City, and Puerto Rico that assessed what adolescents and parents were discussing about sex, and with which parent adolescents were talking (Miller, Kotchick, Dorsey, Forehand, and Ham, 1998).  Both male and female adolescents reported they were more likely to talk with their mothers than with their fathers, but parents reported mothers were more likely to talk with daughters and fathers more likely to talk with sons. These are important differences that can be addressed during therapy in New York with your adolescent.

Written by Dr. Cortney Weissglass as part of Clinical Research Project submitted to the Faculty of the American School of Professional Psychology of Argosy University, Washington, DC Campus, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology. Dissertation chair: Ann Womack, PhD and Member: Jennifer McEwan, PhD. August, 2010.

For a full list of references, contact Dr. Weissglass at

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In late 2012, Dr. Weissglass will be offering psychological testing and therapy in New York.  As a licensed New York psychologist, Dr. Weissglass will be utilizing a strengths-based approach to help her clients address issues ranging from dealing with common stressors to more serious issues, including depression and suicidal thoughts.

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