Farah Williams & Melinda Schmidt University of Virginia We would like to thank the William T. Grant foundation, Spencer Foundation, and National Institute of Mental Health for funding provided to Joseph Allen, Principal Investigator, for the conduct and write-up of this study.
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Farah Williams & Melinda SchmidtUniversity of VirginiaWe would like to thank the William T. Grant foundation, Spencer Foundation, and National Institute of Mental Health for funding provided to Joseph Allen, Principal Investigator, for the conduct and write-up of this study.
Poster presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research in Child Development, Tampa, FL, April 2003. The authors can be reached at the University of Virginia, Dept. of Psychology, P.O. Box 400400, Charlottesville, VA 22904-4400 or [email protected]
This study examines the association between early sexual involvement and negative parental and peer relationships. Multi-reporter data were collected from a sample of 185 adolescents (87 males, 98 females), their mothers, and their same-sex closest friend. Of the 185 adolescents, 44 (27 males, 17 females) self-reported having engaged in sexual activity by the end of the 3rd year of data collection (age range 12-16 years). To assess quality of parent and peer relationships adolescents were interviewed using the Adolescent Attachment Interview, and parents and friends were administered a short from of the Child Behavior Checklist. Logistic regressions were conducted to examine the predictability of young teens sexual involvement based on the attachment relationships with their parents and the characteristics of their close friendships. Results revealed significant predictor of teen’s risk for sexual involvement within their parent and peer relationships.
According to the 1999 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 49.9% of high school students have had sexual intercourse (Center for Disease Control, 2000). However, information about the predictors of premature sexual activity is limited.
One predictor of early adolescent sexual activity is participation in other risky behaviors and association with delinquent peers (White & DeBlassie, 1992).
In addition, teens’ perceptions that their friends hold sexually permissive attitudes and are sexually active influence their sexual decision making (Whitbeck, Yoder, Hoyt, & Conger, 1999).
Much of the research on parental predictors of teens’ sexual involvement has focused on communication and satisfaction in parent-child relationships, although studies have produced mixed results (Dittus & Jaccard, 2000; Newcomer & Udry, 1985).
More recently, researchers have found that working models of attachment relationships may set the stage for behaviors in romantic relationships (Cohn, Silver, Cowan, Cowan, & Pearson, 1992).
For example, Roisman and colleagues (2001) found that working models of parent-child attachment relationships mediated the link between observed behavioral patterns with parents at age 13 and observed behavioral patterns with romantic partners at age 20-21.
What characteristics of teens’ friendships might predict their early involvement in sexual activity?
Might parent-child attachment relationships also be predictive of early sexual activity?
Multi-reporter data were collected from a sample of 185 adolescents (87 males, 98 females), their mothers, and their same-sex closest friend.
Of the 185 adolescents, 44 (27 males, 17 females) self-reported having engaged in sexual activity by the end of the 3rd year of data collection (age range 12 – 16 years).
Adolescent Race/Ethnicity (self-identified)
African American 54
Other Minority Group 24
Mean $30,000 - $39,999 per year (range > $5,000 - <$60,000)
Adolescent Attachment Interview. Adolescents were interviewed with the Adolescent Attachment Interview by Carlson (1989) for use with adolescents. A semi-structured interview was administered to investigate adolescents’ attachment representations by probing for descriptions of early attachment relationships and specific memories which support and contradict these descriptions (Main, Kaplan, & Cassidy, 1985). Adolescents were administered the AAI when they were in the 9th grade.
Child Behavior Checklist. The original CBCL (Achenbach & Edelbrock, 1981) contains 113 items which load on 9 main scales. Parents and peers answered questions regarding the target adolescents’ behavior on the externalizing scales: aggression, hostility, delinquency, hyperactivity, and immaturity. For this study, the short forms taken from Lizotte, Chard-Wierschem, Loeber, & Stern (1992) were used.
Table 1 shows adolescent’s attachment style with parents as a predictor of early sexual activity.
Taking into account age, gender, and minority status adolescents who were seen as having a dismissive attachment style were 3.59 times more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
Taking into account age, gender, and minority status adolescents with a secure attachment were 0.25 times more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
Table 2 shows parent and peer reports of teen’s immaturity as predictors of early sexual activity.
Adolescents who were reported to be immature by their mothers were 1.41 times more likely to engage in sexual activity at an early age.
Close Friend’s report
Adolescents whose close friends reported as being immature were 1.5 times more likely to engage in sexual activity at an early age.
Table 3 shows parent reports of their teen’s hostility as a predictor of early sexual activity.
Teens who were reported as being hostile by their mother’s were 1.22 times more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
Our results indicated a clear association between negative parent and peer relationships and early adolescent sexual behavior.
Parent- Child Attachment
It appears that parents may affect adolescent sexuality through their influence on their teen’s attachment styles.
Teens who were found to be more dismissing and less securely attached were at greatest risk for early involvement in sexual relationships.
Teens who are reported as being more immature by their mothers and close friend are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors at a young age.
Teens whose mother report their child as having high levels of hostility are more likely to engage in sexual behaviors at a young age.
Center for Disease Control. (June 9,2000). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance – United States, 1999, from http://www.cdc.gov.
Cohn, D.A., Silver, D.H., Cowan, C.P., Cowan, P.A., & Pearson, J.L. (1992). Working models of childhood attachment and couple relationships. Journal of FamilyIssues, 13, 432-449.
Dittus, P.J., & Jaccard, J. (2000). Adolescents’ perceptions of maternal disapproval of sex: Relationships to sexual outcomes. Journal of Adolescent Health, 26, 268-278.
Newcomer, S.F., & Udry, J.R. (1985). Parent-child communication and adolescent sexual behavior. Family Planning Perspectives, 17, 169-174.
Roisman, G.I., Madsen, S.D. Hennighausen, K.H., Sroufe, L.A., & Collins, W.A. (2001). The coherence of dyadic behavior across parent-child and romantic relationships as mediated by the internalized representation of experience. Attachment & Human Development, 3, 156-172.
Whitbeck, L.B., Yoder, K.A., Hoyt, D.R., & Conger, R.D. (1999). Early adolescent sexual activity: A developmental study. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 934-946.
White, S.D., & DeBlassie, R.R. (1992). Adolescent sexual behavior. Adolescence, 27, 183-191.