Beyond the "Big Talk"

The Roles of Breadth and Repetition in Parent-Adolescent Communication About Sexual Topics

Published In: Pediatrics, v. 21, no. 3, Mar. 2008, p. e612-e618

Posted on on January 01, 2008

by Steven C. Martino, Marc N. Elliott, Rosalie Corona, David E. Kanouse, Mark A. Schuster

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OBJECTIVE: Most studies of parent-adolescent communication about sexuality focus on the frequency of communication without distinguishing between the breadth of topics covered and repetition. The goal of this study was to assess the independent influence of breadth and repetition of sexual discussion on adolescents' perceptions of their relationship and communication with their parents. METHODS: Data came from 312 adolescents who, along with their parents, were control participants in a randomized, controlled trial to evaluate a worksite-based intervention designed to improve parent-adolescent sexual communication. Adolescents completed surveys before the intervention (time 1) and at 1 week, 3 months, and 9 months after the intervention (times 2, 3, and 4, respectively). At each survey, adolescents reported whether they had discussed each of 22 sex-related topics with their parent. Breadth was defined as the number of topics discussed for the first time between times 1 and 4, and repetition was defined as the number of previously discussed topics repeated during that period. RESULTS: Adolescents whose sexual communication with their parents involved more repetition felt closer to their parents, felt more able to communicate with their parents in general and about sex specifically, and perceived that discussions with their parents about sex occurred with greater openness than did adolescents whose sexual communication with their parents included less repetition. Breadth of communication was associated only with the perceived ease of parent-adolescent sexual communication: adolescents who discussed more new topics with their parents between times 1 and 4 felt that their sexual discussions occurred with greater openness than did adolescents who discussed fewer topics. CONCLUSIONS: Clinicians may want to advise parents about the value of discussing sexual topics repeatedly with their children, because this may provide parents an opportunity to reinforce and build on what they have taught their children and provide children the opportunity to ask clarifying questions as they attempt to put their parents' sexual education into practice.

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