Parental Monitoring Decreases Teens’ Sexual Activity

Children who engage in sexual intercourse at an early age are at increased risk for many psychological and physical problems. One of the primary indicators for early sexual activity is maltreatment. “A childhood history of maltreatment, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect, has been identified as a risk factor for early initiation of sexual intercourse,” said Sarah E. Oberlander of the University of Maryland School and lead author of a study assessing the effects of parental monitoring on adolescents’ decision to become sexually active. Research has shown that children who have been maltreated look for the physical intimacy, companionship and acceptance they never received from parents, from sexual partners. But this behavior can have devastating consequences for these youth, including emotional distress, sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Oberlander and her colleagues collected data from 637 children enrolled in the Longitudinal Studies of Child Abuse and Neglect (LONGSCAN), and looked at lifetime reports, personal interviews and self-reports of abuse, stress and sexual activity. The sample included children who had experienced physical abuse (45%), psychological abuse (59%), sexual abuse (26%) and neglect (57%). The remaining children (21%) had no abuse history and served as the control group.

The results revealed that maltreated children received less parental monitoring and were more likely to be sexually active by age 14 than those with more parental involvement. “Regardless of maltreatment history, both boys and girls whose caregivers engaged in high levels of monitoring (based on reports from both youth and caregivers) were at lower risk of early initiation of sexual activity,” said the researchers. “The prevention of sexual intercourse is likely influenced by reduced opportunities to engage in risky behavior as well as youth-perceived sense of support and a connected family relationship.” They added, “Promoting monitoring among parents, and perceptions of monitoring among youth, may delay or decrease adolescents’ initiation of sexual intercourse and buffer emotional distress symptoms.”

Oberlander, S. E., Wang, Y., Thompson, R., Lewis, T., Proctor, L. J., Isbell, P., English, D. J., Dubowitz, H., Litrownik, A. J., & Black, M. M. (2011, September 19). Childhood Maltreatment, Emotional Distress, and Early Adolescent Sexual Intercourse: Multi-Informant Perspectives on Parental Monitoring. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025423

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Debbie Carter

    Debbie Carter

    October 7th, 2011 at 4:41 PM

    Wow- so parents have to keep an eye on their kids and treat them well for them to succeed in life- what a novel thought

  • kurt


    October 7th, 2011 at 11:25 PM

    I agree that maltreatment from parents may drive the children to seek intimacy elsewhere….but really how much of an impact does that factor have compared to the over-sexualization of the media in particular and the society in general?!

  • Layla


    October 8th, 2011 at 1:49 PM

    None of us want to see our kids become sexually active at an early age. But I think that we need to be honest and realize that the reality is that many of them are becoming active at younger and younger ages, and that part of that is our fault. And we have to at least make sure that they are ready to make the right decisions when it comes to being safe and using contraceptives. You have to talk to them about these tough choices that they are going to have to make soon. And just hope that they will do the right thing.

  • Harriet


    October 8th, 2011 at 11:59 PM

    If being sexually active can pose so Manu problems for kids then why is the age of becoming sexually active constantly falling? It’s because parents and we as a community as a whole are not talking about this menace,we are not trying to fix it!

  • CODY


    October 9th, 2011 at 11:24 PM

    Parental involvement can protect children from a lot of undesirable things and a lot of trouble. Although your young adult may not be the one who would get into trouble or is bot inherently like that but in a group they do tend to do things that can get them into trouble and on the sexual front peer pressure is a major factor for youngsters.

  • gabe


    October 10th, 2011 at 4:20 AM

    Like anything else you have to be aware of the people your kids are hanging out with and the behavior that they are engaging in. It is as simple as that.

  • r.t.


    October 12th, 2011 at 6:50 PM

    Novel idea indeed! But that’s not what the problem is at all-it’s because of our complete failure to properly educate our teens on sex. If I found that my teen was having sex, the very first thing I would ask is “Are you using protection?”.

    Teens want to get laid, that’s all, and no amount of lecturing or supervision is going to stop them. I would rather know they were having sex with protection and from an informed standpoint than going behind my back.

  • GeneLangley


    October 12th, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    @r.t.-You are correct. I remember when my brother got a girl pregnant. He skipped all the sex education classes because he thought he knew everything. Well he didn’t, and that’s part of the problem too.

    If you’re a teen that doesn’t know or care about the responsibility side of having sex, and have parents that are unwilling to monitor your actions, it’s an accident waiting to happen.

  • benwhite


    October 12th, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    Teen pregnancy will never go away. It’s as old as the hills. The difference is generations ago it was hidden: girls were sent away to visit distant aunts before the pregnancy was obvious and never seen again in their local area or at least until after the baby was born and they were slim again. The birth was never spoken of again in their home town by their family members that knew of it because it was shameful to the girl to have a baby out of wedlock. The mud stuck on the other family members too.

    Maybe if that stigma still existed, we’d have fewer teen pregnancies instead of the social services handing them everything on a plate and treating the obvious result of premarital sex like something to be celebrated instead of ashamed of. I would be mortified if my daughter got pregnant and would disown her.

  • Phil Rutherford

    Phil Rutherford

    October 12th, 2011 at 8:27 PM

    @Layla–Exactly, you hit the nail straight on the head with that because it’s the truth. We have to accept that teenagers will lose their virginity at some point, but like the poster above said, it would be much easier on your mind to know they understand the risks and how to mitigate them rather than them not knowing about the risks.

    One idiot I knew thought that he couldn’t possibly be the father after having a threesome because, in his words, “I wasn’t with her last.”

  • Caleb Atkins

    Caleb Atkins

    October 12th, 2011 at 8:34 PM

    While the cat’s away the mice will play. Unsupervised teens will go wild if they are given half the chance. We as parents need to make sure they aren’t. It’s not rocket science. Know where they are and who they are with. Take an interest in your child!

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