June 25, 2001
Less parental monitoring can lead to adverse health
By Tia Webster
Teenagers with less parental monitoring exhibit a higher risk for adverse
health outcomes such as more sexual risk-taking, participation in antisocial
activities, fighting and frequent substance abuse, a study led by a professor
in the Rollins School of Public Health concludes. The study focused on
black female adolescents living in low-income neighborhoods.
Emory researchers studied the teenagers perceptions of their parents
knowledge about where they were spending their time outside of school
and home and whom they were with. The results, published in the June issue
of Pediatrics by Ralph DiClemente, professor of behavioral science
and health education, indicate that less perceived parental monitoring
is associated with high-risk sexual behaviors, the acquisition of sexually
transmitted diseases, violence, antisocial behavior and marijuana and
For example, teens whose parents provided less monitoring were twice
as likely to have multiple sex partners and a history of arrest, 40 percent
more likely to have a history of alcohol use and almost three times more
likely to smoke marijuana frequently.
Although the traditional focus on adolescent health risk behaviors has
been on personal factors or biological characteristics, according to DiClemente,
it is equally important to consider the familial and social contexts that
influence teens behavior.
The role of the family is becoming increasingly important,
DiClemente said. But because todays working families are more
nuclear and less extended, there is less supervision inside and outside
the household, creating a window of opportunity for adolescents to become
involved in risky activities.
Prevention research should address the impact of parental monitoring,
DiClemente said. An adolescents perception is critical in
this case. If a parent can enhance communication with the child and increase
the childs awareness that they know where [they are] and whom they
are with, subsequently, a childs risk behaviors may be reduced.
The studys findings also show that few fathers are seen as primary
monitors. The vast majority of adolescents perceived their mothers as
the parental figures who provided monitoring.
Parents can do this by instilling their own values into the child
and providing constant monitoring of their childrens activities
and friends to reinforce their values. The goal, of course, is that eventually
the child will self-regulate [his or her] behavior, DiClemente said.
Secondly, finding other forms of monitoring may benefit adolescents who
must be left unsupervised for long periods of time.
Social service organizations like Boys and Girls Clubs, churches,
after-school programs and the like, can provide structure for adolescents
that reinforce prosocial values and behaviors. These agencies are not
intended to take the place of parent responsibility, but rather extend
and strengthen it, providing a safety net, DiClemente said.
Emory members of DiClementes multi-institution team included Gina Wingood, assistant professor of behavioral science and health education; Richard Crosby, research fellow in behavioral science and health education; and nursing postdoc fellow Brenda Cobb.