Frequency and content of parent-adolescent communication

Frequency and content of parent-adolescent discussions about sex are important issues for a New York psychologist to consider as research ha

New York psychologists should be aware that most research on parent-adolescent communication about sex uses self-report measures, but even observational research has confirmed that more parents than adolescents are talking, and topics are less frequently about safe sex or abstinence than more broad issues of dating, sexual orientation, romance, and love (Lefkowitz, Boone, Au, and Sigman, 2003).  When mother-adolescent dyads were instructed to discuss dating and sexuality rather than AIDS/HIV during videotaped conversations, significantly more mothers used terms such as ‘protection’ and discussed delaying sexual activity until a later age than did adolescents. 

In addition, only 40% of mothers and 30% of adolescents discussed abstinence during these conversations.  Mothers who did discuss sexual activity were more likely to also discuss abstinence.  Perhaps these mothers were more comfortable discussing intercourse in general than other mothers who discussed other issues of dating with their adolescents.  This comfort level can be increased through participating in therapy in New York. In addition, when mothers and adolescents discussed safe sex, adolescents were on average 10 months older than those who did not.  Mothers may be more comfortable discussing sexual intercourse with their older, more physically mature adolescents, but it may be important to discuss these topics with younger adolescents as well.  As a New York psychologist, I can help you learn to discuss these important and sensitive topics with your adolescent.

While this study used observational measures rather than self-report measures, it did use a self-selected sample of mother-adolescent dyads who volunteered to be videotaped while discussing sex (Lefkowitz et al., 2003).  These mothers may have been more likely to discuss sex-related issues with their adolescents, thus over-estimating the levels of communication regarding these topics between mothers and adolescents. This suggests that it may be even more important to focus on communication during therapy in New York.

It is also important to note that adolescents and their parents can have vastly different views regarding their communication about sex.  Fitzharris and Werner-Wilson (2004) described how adolescents often view their parents as not discussing sex as often as parents believe they are, and adolescents view these talks as lectures and judgments rather than open discussions.  This highlights the importance of carefully defining and measuring the pattern and style of parent-adolescent communications.  Differences in reporting between parents and adolescents regarding frequency of discussions about sex may be due to reporting bias or a difference in perception (Fitzharris and Werner-Wilson, 2004; Lefkowitz et al., 2003). 

For example, parents making vague statements such as ‘be careful’ may be interpreted by parents as discussing sex but may not be by adolescents. By participating in therapy in New York, you can learn how to more clearly communicate with your child.  In addition, these differences may reflect a difference in who is talking during the conversations.  Observational research confirmed hypotheses that parents more actively participate in sex discussions than adolescents (Lefkowitz et al., 2003).   Perhaps parents remember more conversations in which they spoke than adolescents, and perhaps parents are talking and adolescents are not even listening.  Adolescents may learn more when they are actively involved in the conversation. 

These aspects of communicating with your adolescent should be goals for any New York psychologist with whom you are working.  In addition, some research suggests that communication with parents about sex is more effective when adolescents perceive their parents as open to their discussions.  All of these hypotheses suggest that parents listening to their adolescents is more effective than parents talking to their adolescents about sex.  Learning to listen to your teen should be an integral part of any parent-child therapy in New York.

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.

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