Teens risky sexual behaviour makes dads up the care level

American researchers say when it comes to a teenager's risky sexual behaviour mothers deal with it differently to fathers and a father's usual response is to up the level of supervision and monitoring of their children.

The researchers from Boston College, the University of Pittsburgh and Harvard University conducted a study involving more than 3,200 teenagers ages 13 to 18 over a period of four years - the teenagers were a subset of participants in the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a representative sample of American adolescents.

It is estimated that by the time they are 18, two-thirds of American teenagers have had a sexual relationship or experience. For the study each year, the teens reported on their parents' knowledge of their activities, friends and at age 14, the teenagers also answered questions about their engagement in risky sexual activities, including frequency of intercourse, number of partners and incidences of unprotected intercourse.

The study suggests that fathers react differently than mothers to their children's sexual behaviour and when teens engaged in risky sexual behaviour, instead of parents becoming less involved, as previously thought, fathers boosted their involvement, learning more about their children's friends and activities.

This contradicts previous research, which has found that parents react with hostility and are less engaged following such discoveries; the new study also found that involvement in family activities was a protective force and that teenagers who took part in routine family activities like eating meals together or joining in fun projects were less likely to engage in risky sexual activity - teenagers who didn't engage in risky sexual behaviour were more likely to participate in family activities.

According to Rebekah Levine Coley, associate professor of applied developmental and educational psychology at Boston College and the study's lead author, the research highlights despite the notably negative potential repercussions of risky sexual activity during adolescence, the increased efforts of parents to oversee and actively engage with their teenage children.

The study was funded, in part, by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and appears in the May/June 2009 issue of the journal Child Development.

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