Aug. 16, 2006 (Toronto) -- High school students are more likely to use condoms if they think of their parents as understanding and supportive, a new study suggests.
The findings serve as a reminder to keep an open and trusting dialogue going with your children, even if you think they're already getting all the safe-sex messages they need from the Internet, TV, and their teachers, says Mark Wainberg, PhD, director of the McGill AIDS Centre in Montreal, Canada.
"Parents must be honest with their kids. If you skirt the issues, you'll shortchange yourself and them," says Wainberg, who was not involved with the work.
Researcher Stevenson Fergus, PhD, of Queen's University in Kingston, Canada, tells WebMD it's particularly critical that moms get involved.
"We found that both moms and dads play a role in the sexual behavior of their kids. But if there's less support from the father, the amount of support from the mom is really important," he says.
Girls Less Likely to Practice Safe Sex
The study, presented here at the XVI International AIDS Conference, involved nearly 2,000 ninth- and 11th-grade students enrolled in the Canadian Youth, Sexual Health, andStudy.
The students, about evenly split between girls and boys, ranged in age from 13 to 21.
Supportiveness of each parent was measured separately, using two tests with the same five-item questionnaire.
Researchers asked the teens whether they thought their moms and dads understood them, whether they had a lot of arguments with each parent, whether they felt their moms and dads trusted them, whether each parent thought of the child as important, and whether their moms and dads expected too much of them.
Among the findings:
- Only two-thirds of students with low levels of support from both their mom and dad used condoms during their last sexual encounter, compared with about three-fourths of those with high levels of support from both parents.
- Students who had low levels of support from their dad, but high levels from their mom, were just as likely to use a condom as those with high levels of support from both parents.
- Overall, girls, older students, and foreign-born children were less likely to have used a condom the last time they had sex, compared with boys, younger kids, and those born in Canada.
Sexes Respond to Safe-Sex Messages Similarly
Fergus says he did not expect the parental support issue to be the same for boys and girls. "You would think that support would differ depending on sex, with boys more likely to need support from their dad, and girls from their moms," he says.
But Laura Skolnik, senior technical officer with Family Health International's YouthNet Program, didn't find that surprising.
"In many communities, it's more often the moms that talk about issues like sex and provide their kids, no matter which gender, with a moral backbone," she tells WebMD.