Attentive Parenting May Reduce Risky Sexual Behavior in African-American Youths

It is well established that racial discrimination can have negative emotional consequences, including depression and anxiety. But understanding how racial discrimination influences risky sexual behavior, both directly and indirectly, has not been fully explored until now. Megan E. Roberts of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College wanted to find out how racial discrimination affected the sexual behavior of African -American youths and what factors could protect these teens from this type of behavior.

For her study, Roberts examined three specific domains: attitudes towards risky sexual behavior, deviant peer association, and negative affect. She also looked at how attentive parenting helped buffer the teens from these factors. Roberts evaluated 745 African-American youths at age 10 years and reevaluated them at ages 15 and 18. She found that almost 90% of the youths in her study had been subjected to some form of racial discrimination prior to age 10, which increased their likelihood of engaging in risky sexual behaviors at age 18.

Roberts believes that discrimination causes negative affect. Depressed or anxious youth may seek out deviant peers as a method for coping with their emotional deficiencies. By doing so, they then align themselves with peers who take a more casual and approving attitude toward risky sexual behavior. Therefore, the African-American youths who have experienced discrimination at a young age are indirectly more vulnerable to risky sexual activity in their late teens and are at increased risk for sexually transmitted diseases. However, Roberts also discovered that attentive parenting directly decreased the overall negative spiral of discrimination. She said, “Experiencing discrimination produces negative affect (e.g., depression and anxiety), and this psychological consequence is one factor associated with seeking out deviant peers and, ultimately, with greater risky sexual behavior.”  She added that parents who were attentive to their children’s emotions discouraged association with deviant peers. They monitored their children’s alliances more closely, thus protecting them from the influence of deviant beliefs, including acceptance of sexual risk taking. Roberts believes the results of her study underscore the importance of parental involvement and secure and healthy peer affiliations for teens in general, and in particular, for African-American youth.

Roberts, M. E., Gibbons, F. X., Girard, M., Weng, C.-Y., Murray, V. M., Simons, L. G., Simons, R. L., Lorenz, F. O. “From Racial Discrimination to Risky Sex: Prospective Relations Involving Peers and Parents.” Developmental Psychology 48.1 (2012): 89-102. Print.

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  • Brenda Cole

    Brenda Cole

    January 23rd, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    While I am sure that attentive parenting will reduce the risk of poor sexual judgement when it comes to the African American community, I am equally certain that it will probably do the same thing in multiple other communities as well. As a parent you have to stand up and be a leader and show your kids via your own behavior the exact things that you expect from them. A part of this is being sexually responsible yourself, but also being there to help guide them when the choices in adolescence get hard. That is something that seems to be lacking in many parental relationships across the board. Too many parents want to be friends with their kids and not have to deal with the bad parts. But guess what? Parenting is hard, but when you hold your children up and help them learn to make the right choices in life you are going to be rewarded with such a good kid. And that is a good feeling.

  • Adrian.K


    January 23rd, 2012 at 11:39 PM

    If you observe you will see that youngsters with a good relationship with their parents usually keep away from risky behaviors including sexually.

    The association not only brings good advice but also a sense of belonging-ness and this I feel promotes healthy behavior in youngsters.

  • Reeny


    January 24th, 2012 at 5:21 AM

    ha novel concept being an attentive parent

  • mary Kate

    mary Kate

    January 24th, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    I have seen too many parents lately adopt a don’t ask don’t tell relationship with thei kids, but I am here to tell my own kids that that is not what is going to happen in their house. I want to who they are with and why, who their parents are, everything that I need to know about those who spend a lot of time with my children. The kids might not like it too much but sometimes you have to do what you can as a parent to save them from themselves!



    January 24th, 2012 at 10:03 PM

    Its all good about the parenting but one thing I don’t understand is how can racism possibly result in risky sexual behavior? Yes social,and economic statuses can matter but how racial?

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