A new study by New York University professor Vincent Guilamo-Ramos and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests that fathers’ parenting behavior influences the sexual behavior of their adolescent children. However, to date most parent-based research on adolescent sexual risk behavior has neglected the role of fathers, a missed opportunity to contribute to their adolescent children’s health and well-being.
While it is well-established that parenting is closely linked with a teenager’s sexual health and reproductive outcomes, it is mothers that, to date, have drawn most of the attention of researchers, according to the study published today by Pediatrics. Guilamo-Ramos is professor of social work and co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at NYU’s Silver School of Social Work.
Far less is known, the study found, about how fathers’ specific parenting behaviors influence different areas of adolescent sexual risk behavior. The study, “Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review,” states that the majority of research that looks at the role of fathers tends to conceptualize their influence with limited perspective, viewing them as an economic provider chiefly, or looking mainly at whether or not they are present in the home. Additionally, most studies tended to examine father influence on only one area of adolescent sexual risk behavior, sexual debut.
The study calls for more, and more rigorous, research, and depicts the current shortage of father-specific studies as a passed-up chance to improve the sexual and reproductive health of adolescents. The absence of sufficient father-focused research also contributes to a lack of understanding of the ways that fathers may differ from mothers in how they monitor, supervise, and communicate with their teenage children, and how they can make a greater difference.
The authors provide recommendations for primary care providers and public health practitioners. These recommendations deal with how better to incorporate fathers into interventions designed to reduce sexual risk behavior at a critical developmental stage associated with risk-taking and negative outcomes, from sexually transmitted diseases to unwanted pregnancy.
Successful father-based interventions, the study says, potentially represent an additional mechanism to influence teen sexual behavior and thus expand the opportunity to support adolescent health and well-being.
In addition to principal author Guilamo-Ramos, the study with co-authored by Alida Bouris, PhD; Jane Lee, MSW; Katharine McCarthy, MPH; Shannon L. Michael; PhD; Seraphine Pitt-Barnes, PhD, and Patricia Dittus, PhD.