Teens might divulge school crushes and other dating issues with mom and dad, but when it comes to sex, mum's the word.
A new study details how teens seek more independence and draw boundaries around what they reveal.
"Many parents become frustrated because they feel that the lack of communication with their teenage children is evidence of increasing distance or diminishing influence," said study researcher Christopher Daddis, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Marion. "What we found is that adolescents are willing to talk to their parents about some issues, but those issues may change as they grow older and they feel more autonomous."
Daddis and co-author Danielle Randolph of Bowling Green State University in Ohio detail their findings in the June issue of the Journal of Adolescence.
Let's talk about sex
The tight-lipped study involved a survey of 222 teens (about evenly split between guys and gals) in the 9th and 12th grades from a central Ohio high school.
Students rated how willing they were to disclose specific information to their parents about 22 different issues surrounding teens' romantic lives. Based on the results, the researchers separated dating issues into three categories:
- Identity info: the identity of a boyfriend or girlfriend, personal character and the type of student the person is; and information about the boyfriend or girlfriend's family
- Personal issues: what the teen did with his or her partner without parental supervision and whether they had sex
- Affection info: types of things teens did to show their affection, such as holding hands, kissing and "going steady"
- Teens disclosed more about identity and holding-hands information to parents than they did personal reports.
- Girls divulged more than boys, and mom was the primary confidant for both sexes. Adolescents of both sexes said very little to mom or dad about what they did when unsupervised on dates and whether they had sex.
- Teens were more likely to discuss issues that they thought could involve harm to others and that may have severe consequences.
- On most issues, younger adolescents showed a significantly higher level of communication than older adolescents.
- Those teens who reported more trust with parents were more likely to disclose more dating information in general.
"It is important for the parents to provide an environment where the child can feel comfortable and trusting," Daddis said.
And so rather than pull out your hair, Daddis said, "Developing a trusting relationship is one of the most important things parents can do to maintain consistent communication."
Parents might also take their heads out of the sand and realize that their kids aren't so different from all the rest. Another recent study showed parents don't believe their own teens are having sex. They do, however, tend to think everyone else's kids are.