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Barriers to Parent-Child Communication About Sexual and Reproductive Health

Parents have a long history of struggling with sharing “the facts of life” with their children. This discomfort with talking about sex among families, and specifically with teens, is an international phenomenon.

Researchers at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications reviewed previous research of parents discussing adolescent sexual health with their children, spanning five continents and 19 different countries. They identified three types of communication barriers, both barriers to communication and barriers to effective communication reported by parents and/or children: personal, communal, and cultural. These hurdles make informing children of appropriate sexual precautions and preventive measures challenging.

For example, a parent’s own negative sexual experience or lack of sexual health education is a personal obstacle to communicating effectively with a child. Parents feel like they aren’t a credible source, or their experience may sour their child’s perspective.

In terms of communal challenges, peer pressure and the influence of friends can make it difficult for a parent to have a frank conversation about sex. With all the noise of classmates, social media, and stereotypes, children are already getting sexual information from other sources. It can be difficult to break through these influences to better inform adolescents.

Finally, in some cultures, having a dialogue about sex is taboo especially in countries with strict gender roles. It would be uncomfortable or inappropriate for parents with some strong religious beliefs to discuss sex, even with their children.

But parents play a critical role in educating their children about sexual health. They need to have “the talk.” So, parents need a little guidance on how best to bridge the gap. Resources and guidance for parents on how to establish a dialogue, while respecting children’s autonomy and cultural context would go a long way.

In addition, the researchers also suggest future research expand on these three barriers to include other dimensions such as sexual diversity.

The original article, “International Barriers to Parent-Child Communication About Sexual and Reproductive Health Topics: A Qualitative Systematic Review,” was published in Sex Education on Sept. 1, 2020.

Authors: University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications current and former Ph.D. students Michaela D. Mullis, Amanda Kastrinos, Easton Wollney, Greenberry Taylor and UFCJC Public Relations and College of Medicine Division of Hematology & Oncology Professor  Carma L. Bylund.

This summary was written by Dana Hackley, Ph.D.

Posted: November 30, 2020
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