The Correlates and Consequences of Incongruence in Parents’ and Teens’ Reports of Teens’ Sexual Activity

Stefanie F Mollborn, University of Colorado at Boulder
Bethany Everett, University of Colorado at Boulder

Past research based on a small sample with limited measures has suggested that parents’ accurate knowledge of their teenage children’s sexual activity may be important for understanding subsequent sexual behavior. We assess this idea using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) and including a variety of outcomes from subsequent sexual intercourse to sexual protective and risk behaviors to the problematic outcomes of STIs and pregnancy. Results show that parents’ own attitudes about teenage sex, parent-teen communication about sex and contraception, and characteristics of adolescents that are probably perceived as increasing the likelihood of sexual activity all influence parents’ knowledge about teens’ sexual experience. Parental overestimation of teens’ sexual experience increases risk across several outcomes, while underestimation decreases risk. Effect sizes are frequently quite large despite a variety of controls. These findings support the idea that parents’ expectations can influence teens’ sexual behavior in important ways.

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Presented in Poster Session 4