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Devoted Dad Can Reduce Risky Teen Sex

by The Kid's Doctor Staff

Study after study has show the influence a devoted parent can have in a child’s life. Now a new study shows that teenagers whose fathers are more involved in their lives are less likely to engage in risky sexual activities such as unprotected intercourse.

Researchers found the more attentive the dad, and the more he knows about his teenage child’s friends, the bigger the impact on the teen’s sexual behavior. While an involved mother can also help stave off a teen’s sexual activity, dads have twice the influence.

“Maybe there’s something different about the way fathers and adolescents interact,” said the study’s lead author Rebekah Levine Coley, an associate professor at Boston College. “It could be because it’s less expected for fathers to be so involved, so it packs more punch when they are.”

One in four American adolescents under the age of 15 has had sexual intercourse and by age 18, two-thirds have had sex, according to research.

For the study, which appears in the journal Child Development, Coley and her colleagues surveyed over 3,000 teens, ages 13 to 18, once a year for four years. The teens, who all came from two parent homes, were asked about their sexual behaviors and about their relationships with their parents.

Researchers posed a series of questions about both mothers and fathers, such as “how much does she/he know about whom you are with when you are not at home?” The teens were also asked about how often they interacted with their parents in activities such as eating dinner, playing games or attending religious activities.

Parental knowledge of a teen’s friends and activities was rated on a five-point scale. When it came to the dad, each point in higher parental knowledge translated into a seven point lower rate of sexual activity in the teen. For the moms, one point higher in knowledge translated to a three percent lower rate of teen sexual activity.

The impact on family time overall was even more striking. One additional family activity per week predicted a nine percent drop in sexual activity.

Why would dads have a more powerful influence?

“Child development experts said the study was carefully done and important. “It’s praiseworthy by any measure,” said Alan E. Kazdin, a professor of psychology and child psychiatry at Yale University. “The strength of this study is that it helps us identify the children who might be engaging in risky sexual behavior.”

“Dads vary markedly in their roles are caretakers from not there at all to really helping moms,” Kazdin said. “The greater impact of dads might be that moms are more of a constant and when dads are there their impact is magnified.

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