BOSTON, Mass. – A 4-year study has found that teens raised in families with fathers involved in their lives are significantly less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior than those raised by alienated dads, step-parents or in single-parent households.
Risky sexual behavior is defined as early initiation of sexual activity, frequent sexual intercourse, multiple partners and inconsistent use of reliable birth control.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from Boston College, Harvard University and the University of Pittsburgh, examined “risky sexual behaviors” and parenting methods among 3,206 teenagers ages 13-18. It is published in the May/June issue of Child Development.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the study contradicts the results of previous research that found the most parents react with anger and detachment when they discover that their teenagers are sexually active, a reaction that is more likely to cause the teens to take more sexual risks.
“Youth who engaged more regularly in activities with their families and had fathers who were more knowledgeable about their friends and activities thereafter reported lower average levels of sexual risk behaviors in comparison to their peers with less engaged parents,” wrote Boston College’s Rebekah Levine Coley, who headed up the research.
“Teens with involved dads reported 7 percent less sexual activity than average. However, the researchers didn’t find that a father’s increased knowledge did anything to curb his child’s actions,” said U.S. News.
The study found that fathers by and large did not react differently to sons or daughters, but that girls did respond more favorably than boys to their father’s involvement and also to family activities.
The researchers also concluded that family activities helped lessen the chance of risky teen sex, that households with higher incomes had lower average levels of regular family activities and that overall parental involvement was low for kids living with step-parents.
“Youth who lived with step-parents or who resided for some portion of the study time in a single-parent household showed notably higher average levels of sexual risk behaviors than did their peers in stable and biological-parent families,” Coley wrote. “These results highlight the benefits of stable biological-parent families, but also suggest that the quality of parenting is important above and beyond the effects of family structure.”