Adolescence Article Critique Paper
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Adolescence Article Critique Paper
Adolescence Article Critique Paper
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/adolescence
Young adolescents’ responsiveness to sexual communication with their mother: Distinguishing diverse intentions Heather A. Sears∗, Brett S. Robinson1, E. Sandra Byers Department of Psychology, University of New Brunswick, P.O. Box 4400, Fredericton, New Brunswick, E3B 5A3, Canada
Keywords: Responsiveness Intentions Sexual communication young adolescents Mothers
Introduction: It is unlikely that parents can have effective sexuality discussions with their adolescent if the adolescent is not responsive to their efforts. We evaluated young adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to sexual communication with their mother and whether youths who were likely, ambivalent, or unlikely to be responsive differed on their characteristics, features of previous sexual communication, and features of the mother-adolescent relationship.
Methods: Participants were 259 Canadian adolescents (12–14 years; 53% girls) who received and returned a survey by mail. They completed measures of responsiveness intentions, expected outcomes of sexual communication, extent of past sexual communication, the frequency with which mothers encouraged questions and provided information about sexuality topics, open communication, and mothers’ provision of warmth, structure, and autonomy support.
Results: We found that 37% of adolescents were likely to be responsive to sexual communication with their mother, 34% were ambivalent, and 29% were unlikely to be responsive. Youths’ re- sponsiveness intentions were general rather than topic-specific.
A discriminant analysis showed that only features of previous sexual communication separated all three groups whereas specific mother-adolescent relationship features (open communication and structure) and one adolescent characteristic (expected outcomes) separated the unlikely group from the other groups.
Conclusions: Young adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to sexual communication from their mother are diverse yet general in nature. Mothers’ engagement in sexual communication appears essential for youths’ openness to these discussions. Enhancing specific mother-adolescent relationship features and youths’ outcome expectations may shift adolescents who are resistant to sexuality discussions to being more sure.
Communication between parents and their adolescents about sexual health topics has the potential to be a win-win situation for both parties. For parents, sexual communication is an opportunity to fulfill one of their acknowledged responsibilities by providing information that can prevent negative sexual outcomes and sharing attitudes and values (Flores & Barroso, 2017; Jerman & Constantine, 2010).
For adolescents, sexual communication is an opportunity to gain factual information and practical skills from one of their preferred sources of sexuality information (Baheiraei, Khoori, Foroushani, Ahmadi, & Ybarra, 2014; Byers et al., 2003a, 2003b; Pariera & Brody, 2018).
However, in many families, sexual communication occurs infrequently or not at all, and when it does occur, it often lacks depth, is narrow in scope, has a negative tone, and takes place too late to maximize its potential benefit (Beckett et al., 2010; Evans, Widman, Kamke, & Stewart, 2019; Holman & Koenig Kellas, 2018; Ritchwood et al., 2018; Widman, Choukas- Bradley, Helms, Golin, & Prinstein, 2014).
This reflects, in part, many parents’ and many adolescents’ discomforts during their interactions (Elliott, 2010; Grossman, Jenkins, & Richer, 2018; Jerman & Constantine, 2010). Parents’ and adolescents’ discomfort discussing sexuality may also be evident in their responsiveness during these conversations.
Responsiveness involves a range of behaviors that signal engagement, such as verbal participation, listening, paying attention to what is being said, and asking and answering questions (Romo, Nadeem, Au, & Sigman, 2004; Whitaker, Miller, May, & Levin, 1999).
Studies of responsiveness in parent-adolescent sexual communication have focused primarily on mothers, with both mothers and adolescents highlighting the importance of mothers’ responsiveness in this context (e.g., Holman & Koenig Kellas, 2018; Pluhar & Kuriloff, 2004).
Mothers’ responsiveness during sexuality discussions is related to more frequent sexual communication, discussion of more topics, less dominance by mothers during discussions, and more engagement and less avoidance by the adolescent (Afifi, Joseph, & Aldeis, 2008; Lefkowitz, Romo, Corona, Au, & Sigman, 2000; Miller et al., 2009; Miller, Kotchick, Dorsey, Forehand, & Ham, 1998; Pluhar & Kuriloff, 2004).
Interestingly, even though adolescents’ characteristics and engagement are viewed as critical aspects of these interactions (see DiIorio, Pluhar, & Belcher, 2003; Flores & Barroso, 2017; Jaccard, Dodge, & Dittus, 2002), their responsiveness (i.e., their behavior or intentions) has received little attention.
It appears, however, that adolescents’ lack of response or negative response (e.g., not listening, silence, dismissal, contempt) can deter parent-adolescent sexual communication (Elliott, 2010; Pluhar & Kuriloff, 2004; Rosenthal, Feldman, & Edwards, 1998). Nevertheless, some youths are positive about and responsive to these discussions (Grossman et al., 2018; Holman & Koenig Kellas, 2018; Yowell, 1997).
In this study, we assessed young adolescents’ responsiveness intentions that is, their plan to be responsive to sexual communication with their mother. Too few adolescents reported on their communication with their father to be considered. We focused on adolescents’ responsiveness intentions rather than their past responsiveness behavior for two reasons.
First, assessing adolescents’ responsiveness intentions allowed us to include youths living in families where sexual communication was not occurring as well as youths who may be reluctant to disclose previous unresponsiveness to their parent’s sexual communication.
Second, we found no previous research on youths’ responsiveness intentions in this context. Information about the responsiveness intentions of young adolescents provides important information for parents who are initiating sexual communication or planning to introduce new topics
for discussion against a backdrop of the normative increase in parent adolescent conflict and decline in parent-adolescent warmth experienced in many families during early adolescence (Askelson, Campo, & Smith, 2012; Shanahan, McHale, Osgood, & Crouter, 2007; Shearer, Crouter, & McHale, 2005).
1.1. Adolescents’ responsiveness to parent-adolescent sexual communication
Researchers have found considerable heterogeneity in adolescents’ responsiveness to sexual communication with their mother. For example, Romo et al. (2004) conducted an observational study of 11-to-16-year-old youths’ responsiveness to their mothers’ questions during sexuality discussions.
They reported that, on average, youths responded with low to moderate levels of attentiveness and verbal engagement, although scores on these two indices indicated substantial variation across adolescents. Using interviews with adolescent girls (11–13 years) and their mother, Yowell (1997)
Identified three groups who reported different types of engagement: actively engaged girls who were willing to participate in sexual communication even when they had different perspectives from their mother; passively engaged girls who were willing to participate in sexual communication to comply with their mother’s expectation that these discussions take place; and avoidant girls who shut down discussions with their mother largely because of a desire for privacy.
Rosenthal et al. (1998) interviewed mothers of 16-year-olds about their sexual communication with their adolescent and found that mothers’ descriptions ranged from their youth being interested and engaged to their youth being largely uninterested and even dismissive to their youth not being willing to have sexuality discussions.
Finally, Grossman et al. (2018) interviewed parents twice about family sexual communication, when their adolescent was in seventh grade and tenth grade (20/23 parents were mothers). At both interviews, a majority of parents indicated that their adolescent was engaged during sexuality discussions; however, in the second interview compared to the first interview, almost twice as many parents described their youth’s avoidance or negative reaction to the discussions.
Together, these studies indicate that adolescents respond in various ways to their mother’s efforts to have sexuality discussions, with some youths open to and engaged in these conversations, other youths avoiding or refusing to engage in these conversations, and still other youths responding in a more emotionally tempered way with limited engagement and perceived by their mother as having little interest.
We reasoned that this diversity in youths’ responses to sexuality conversations with their mother may reflect, in part, diverse intentions to be responsive given that individuals’ behavioral intentions are a predictor of their subsequent behaviors (Sheeran, 2002; Webb & Sheeran, 2006).
We expected that some adolescents would be more positive about having a sexuality discussion with their mother (i.e., be likely to be responsive), some would be more negative (i.e., be unlikely to be responsive), and some would be ambivalent, unsure, or neutral about engaging in such a discussion (i.e., be neither likely nor unlikely to be responsive).
We used a categorical approach in our evaluation of adolescents’ responsiveness intentions to ensure that the results provided information about youths who are ambivalent or unsure about having sexuality discussions with their mother; the possibly unique characteristics of these youths would be overlooked using a dimensional approach.
We were particularly interested in whether the youths who indicated that they were neither likely nor unlikely to be responsive to sexual communication with their mother would differ in various ways from those who are either open to or resistant to these discussions given that it may be difficult to infer adolescents’ ambivalence
or hesitance about having sexuality discussions from observations of them or during interactions with them. It is important to provide parents with realistic expectations about youths’ responsiveness intentions in order to reduce their fears
H.A. Sears, et al. Journal of Adolescence 80 (2020) 136–144 about the likelihood of a negative response from their adolescent and/or to allow them to take steps in increase their adolescent’s responsiveness. Further, this information may inform future research and intervention efforts aimed at promoting parent-adolescent sexual communication.
Currently, we have no information on the proportion of youths who are likely, unlikely, or ambivalent about being responsive to sexual communication with their mother or about factors that are associated with diverse intentions to be responsive. Our first goal was to examine the percentage of young adolescents in this sample who fell into three responsiveness intentions groups: Likely to be Responsive, Ambivalent, and Unlikely to be Responsive.
1.2. Factors expected to distinguish adolescents with diverse responsiveness intentions
Our second goal was to identify factors that describe differences among adolescents in the three responsiveness intentions groups. Frameworks for studying parent-adolescent sexual communication (see Flores & Barroso, 2017; Jaccard et al., 2002) and previous studies (e.g., Klein, Becker, & Stulhofer, 2018; Ritchwood et al., 2018;
Schouten, van den Putte, Pasmans, & Meeuwesen, 2007) have identified youth characteristics, the sexual communication context, and the family context as potentially important domains.
Therefore, we selected two adolescent characteristics (gender, expected outcomes), three features of previous mother-adolescent sexual communication (the extent of communication, the frequency with which mothers had encouraged questions and provided information about sexual health topics), and four features of the mother-adolescent relationship (open mother-adolescent communication, mothers’ provision of warmth, structure, and autonomy support) for evaluation.
Researchers have not investigated whether these factors describe group differences in young adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to their mother’s sexual communication. There is indirect support, however, for our selection of these factors.
Adolescent characteristics. It is likely that young male and female adolescents differ on their intentions of being responsive to sexual communication with their mother. Romo et al. (2004) found that adolescent girls were more responsive than adolescent boys to their mothers’ questions during sexuality discussions, and Fasula and Miller (2006) reported that adolescent girls perceived their mother as more responsive during sexual communication than adolescent boys.
In addition, Rosenthal et al. (1998) reported that more mothers of adolescent girls than adolescent boys described mutually interactive discussions about sexuality, although Grossman et al. (2018) found no gender difference in parents’ reports of their teenager’s positive or negative responsiveness.
We also evaluated youths’ expected outcomes of being responsive to sexual communication with their mother because, in general, more positive expected outcomes of a behavior are linked to higher intentions related to that behavior (Jaccard et al., 2002).
Although adolescents may expect both positive (e.g., questions will be answered) and negative (e.g., they will be embarrassed) outcomes from sexual communication (Jaccard, Dittus, & Gordon, 2000), adolescents who expect more positive outcomes engage in more sexual communication with their mother and their father (Schouten et al., 2007).
Features of previous mother-adolescent sexual communication. By the time young adolescents are in middle school, at least some of them have had sexual communication with their mother.
However, according to both mothers and youths, these con- versations typically are not extensive and parents encourage sexual health questions infrequently (Byers & Sears, 2012; Foster, Byers, & Sears, 2011; Holman & Koenig Kellas, 2018). The likelihood of youths being responsive during future communication is expected to be related to these previous experiences, including the extent of previous communication
(i.e., depth or level of detail), the frequency with which their mother encouraged questions about sexual health topics, and the frequency with which their mother provided information about sexual health topics (e.g., books, videos). Parents who engage in these behaviors may show their adolescent that they have knowledge about and comfort with at least some sexuality topics and an openness and ability to share this information in a way that is not intrusive or embarrassing.
Young adults identified an openness to questions as a strength of parents’ sexual communication (Pariera & Brody, 2018), and the frequency with which parents encouraged questions was the strongest predictor of young adolescents’ perception of higher quality sexuality education by their parents (Foster et al., 2011).
We also assessed the frequency with which mothers provided sexual health information because we thought that mothers doing so may reduce the dis- comfort of both parties by providing a focus and helping them prepare in advance for a discussion.
Features of the mother-adolescent relationship. Mother-adolescent sexual communication is most likely to occur in the context of a positive mother-adolescent relationship. For example, more open general communication has been associated with adolescents’ more positive evaluation of their mother as a sex educator and with caregivers’, but not young adolescents’, reports of more communication about sexual health topics and sensitive sex topics (Feldman & Rosenthal, 2000; Ritchwood et al., 2018).
In addition, parents’ provision of warmth, structure, and autonomy support have been related to parent-adolescent sexual communication, in at least some studies. For example, various markers of a positive relationship (e.g., satisfaction, support) have been linked to adolescents’ reports of more sexual communication and more frequent sexual communication (Jaccard et al., 2000; Klein et al., 2018), but not consistently (e.g., Afifi et al., 2008).
Mothers’ provision of structure during a sexuality discussion in the form of more open-ended questions, information, and feedback has been positively associated with adolescents’ level of engagement and desire for additional conversations (Mauras, Grolnick, & Friendly, 2012; Romo et al., 2004).
Parents’ provision of autonomy support has been linked to more frequent sexual communication between parents and girls over time (Klein et al., 2018), although autonomy support was not related concurrently to girls’ experience of sexuality discussions (Mauras et al., 2012). We thought that each of these relationship features would contribute to a positive climate that would make young adolescents more likely to be responsive to sexual communication.
1.3. The current study
It is unlikely that parents can have effective sexuality discussions with their adolescent if the adolescent is not responsive to their
H.A. Sears, et al. Journal of Adolescence 80 (2020) 136–144
However, we know little about adolescents’ responsiveness to parent-adolescent sexual communication from adolescents’ perspective and nothing about their intentions to be responsive to these conversations. Therefore, we examined young adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to sexual communication with their mother.
We generated three groups of youths (Likely to be Responsive, Ambivalent, and Unlikely to be Responsive) and developed two research questions. First, what proportion of young adolescents fall within each of the three groups? Second, do adolescents’ characteristics, features of previous sexual communication with their mother, and features of the mother-adolescent relationship distinguish the three groups?
We expected that the Likely to be Responsive group would be comprised of a higher proportion of girls and that youths in this group would score higher than youths in the Unlikely to be Responsive group on all of the other factors assessed. We did not make hypotheses about the proportion of adolescents who would fall within each group or the position of youths in the Ambivalent group relative to those in the other two groups given that there has been no research on adolescents’ responsiveness intentions.
2.1. Participants and procedure
The participants were 259 Canadian adolescents (137 girls, 122 boys) who ranged in age from 12 to 14 years (M (SD) = 12.97(.72)) and were enrolled in either grade 7 (51%) or grade 8 (49%). A majority (70%) reported that they lived with their mother and father; 12% were living with a parent and stepparent, and 18% were living with their mother on her own.
To recruit the sample, 683 survey packages were mailed to parents who had participated in research conducted by our lab in the previous 12 months, all of whom had a young adolescent. Parents were asked to provide our survey to their adolescent and to sign a consent form if they were willing to have them participate in this study.
Adolescents who wished to participate were asked to sign their own consent form, to complete the survey at home, and then to return the survey and both consent forms directly to the researchers by mail in a self-addressed stamped envelope. The 319 youths who returned a completed survey each received $20.
After accounting for the 14 surveys that were returned by the post office, the response rate was 48%. Sixty surveys were excluded because they were returned too late (n = 5) or without a signed parent consent form (n = 18), or the youths exceeded the age range for the study (12–14 years; n = 4), were living with someone other than a parent (n = 2), reported on sexual communication with their father (n = 29), or were missing data on the dependent variable (n = 2). The final sample size was 259.
Demographic characteristics. Adolescents were asked to report their gender, age, grade, and with whom they were living. Intentions of being responsive. Adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to discussions about sexuality with their mother
were assessed using 12 items adapted from a measure of sexual communication intentions (Byers & Sears, 2012). Youths were provided with a description of responsiveness (“Being responsive means listening, paying attention to what is being said, and asking or answering questions”) and asked to indicate how likely it was that, in the next six months, they would be responsive or willing to have a conversation or discussion with their mother about each of 12 topics (see Table 1).
Their responses were made on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = very unlikely, 2 = unlikely, 3 = neither unlikely nor likely, 4 = likely, 5 = very likely).
Adolescent characteristics. Two adolescent characteristics were assessed. First, youths reported whether they were female or male in the demographic characteristics section. Second, they indicated the extent to which they expected positive and negative outcomes to occur if they were responsive to a discussion with their mother about sexual health.
The 12 items reflected possible outcomes for the adolescent (e.g., I would not learn anything new about sexuality; my parent would listen to me) or their mother (e.g., my parent would be embarrassed; my parent would think that I am planning to have sex). Five items were adapted from Jaccard et al. (2000), two items were adapted from DiIorio et al. (2001), and five items were developed for this study. Responses were made using a 5-point
Table 1 Factor loadings of sexual communication topics on adolescents’ responsiveness intentions.
Sexual Communication Topic Factor Loading
Correct names for genitals .78 Puberty/Physical development .74 Reproduction & birth .87 Birth control methods & safer sex practices .85 Sexually transmitted diseases .82 Abstinence .81 Sexual coercion & sexual assault .86 Sexual behavior .80 Masturbation .76 Homosexuality .76 Sex in the media and on the Internet .82 Sexual decision-making in dating relationships .84
Note. N = 259.
H.A. Sears, et al. Journal of Adolescence 80 (2020) 136–144
Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). The sum of the 12 items was computed after reverse coding the six negative outcomes, with a higher score reflecting youths’ expectations of more positive outcomes as a consequence of being responsive. The internal consistency of this measure was .81.
Features of previous sexual communication. Adolescents’ views of three features of previous sexual communication with their mother were assessed. First, youths indicated the extent to which they had talked to their mother in the last six months about each of the same 12 topics used to assess their responsiveness intentions.
Their responses were made using a 4-point scale (1 = not at all, 2 = in general terms only, 3 = in some detail, 4 = in a lot of detail), with higher mean scores indicating more extensive communication. Consistent with previous research with parents (e.g., Byers & Sears, 2012), the internal consistency was high (α = .95).
The adolescents also reported on the frequency, in the last six months, with which their mother had encouraged them to ask questions about sexual health topics (Foster et al., 2011) and their mother had given them information about sexual health topics (e.g., books, videos) (developed for this study). Their responses were made using a 5-point scale (1 = not at all, 5 = very often), with higher scores on each item indicating that the behavior had occurred more often.
Features of the mother-adolescent relationship. Adolescents completed four measures of the mother-adolescent relationship. We assessed their perceptions of more open communication with their mother using the 20-item Parent-Adolescent Communication Scale (Barnes & Olsen, 1985; e.g., I find it easy to discuss problems with my parent).
Responses were made on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree). After reverse coding the 10 negative statements, the 20 items were summed, with a higher score reflecting more open general communication. Barnes and Olsen (1985) provided evidence for the reliability and validity of the scale (α = .89 in this study).
We also evaluated adolescents’ perceptions of their relationship with their mother using the Parents as Social Context Questionnaire (Adolescent Report) (Skinner, Johnson, & Snyder, 2005). The measure includes three subscales – warmth (e.g., My parent thinks I am special); structure (e.g., When I want to understand how something works, my parent explains it to me); and autonomy support (e.g., My parent lets me do things I think are important).
Each subscale consists of four items and responses were made on a 4-point scale (1 = not at all true, 4 = very true). Subscale items were averaged, with a higher mean score indicating more warmth, more structure, and more autonomy support by their mother. Skinner et al. (2005) provided evidence for the reliability and validity of the scale (αs = . 81, .81, and .74 for warmth, structure, and autonomy support, respectively, in the current study).
3.1. Preliminary analysis
First, we used a principal component analysis (PCA) to confirm that adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to sexual communication with their mother are best conceptualized as a composite rather than some combinations of sexual health topics.
An analysis of the 12 responsiveness intentions items, with oblimin rotation, revealed a one factor solution that accounted for 65.43% of the variance. Component loadings ranged from .74 to .87 (see Table 1). The internal consistency of this responsiveness intentions composite was .95.
3.2. Young adolescents’ intentions of being responsive to sexual communication with their mother
Next, youths were assigned to one of three groups based on their mean score on the 12-item responsiveness intentions measure: Adolescents who indicated that, on average, they were very unlikely or unlikely to be responsive to sexual health discussions with their mother (mean score between 1.00 and 2.49) were placed in the Unlikely to be Responsive group; those who were neither unlikely nor likely to be responsive to sexual health discussions (mean score between 2.50 and 3.49) were placed in the
Ambivalent group; and those who were likely or very likely to be responsive to sexual health discussions (mean score between 3.50 and 5.00) were placed in the Likely to be Responsive group. Cutoff scores for the groups were selected to position the Ambivalent group under the “neither unlikely nor likely” response anchor and centrally between the other two groups. Overall, 29% of the young adolescents were in the Unlikely to be Responsive group, 34% were in the Ambivalent group, and 37% were in the Likely to be Responsive group.
3.3. Factors that distinguish youths with diverse responsiveness intentions
The intercorrelations among the two adolescent characteristics, the three features of previous sexual communication with their mother, and the four features of the mother-adolescent relationship are presented in Table 2. Adolescent gender was not related to any of the other factors. With only a few exceptions, the remaining factors were significantly correlated.
We used discriminant analysis to examine whether young adolescents’ reports of their characteristics, features of previous sexual communication with their mother, and features of the mother-adolescent relationship separated the three groups. Discriminant analysis assesses whether one or more linear combinations of variables (i.e., linear discriminant functions) are related to group differences (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013).
Linear discriminant functions maximize differences between groups, are generated successively, and are orthogonal. A canonical correlation is presented for each function, and each canonical correlation squared indicates the proportion of variance in the function that is explained by the group differences.
With three groups, two linear discriminant functions are estimated and tested for significance. Group centroids are the mean discriminant scores for each group and show how the groups are spaced or separated along each function. Structure coefficients are bivariate correlations between individual variables and the linear discriminant function and identify the contribution of the variables to group separation.
Results from univariate analyses indicate how the groups differ on significant correlates (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2013). Many parents’ fears that their young adolescents are not open to sexual communication, at least some parents can expect a positive response and other parents may encounter hesitance but not resistance.
Our results also indicated that the likelihood of young adolescents being responsive to sexuality discussions with their mother is general (i.e., consistent across a range of topics) rather than topic-specific. This may reflect their positive or negative response disposition toward sexuality, termed erotophobia-erotophilia (Fisher, Byrne, White, & Kelley, 1988; Rye, Meaney, Yessis, & McKay, 2012).
Erotophobia-erotophilia is thought to emerge from parents’ socialization of sexuality, including whether sexuality issues are addressed in overt or covert ways. Alternatively, it may reflect adolescents’ perception of the quality of their relationship with their mother, such that adolescents who have a more positive or more negative relationship with their mother are more inclined or not inclined to have sexuality discussions regardless of the topic.
Another possible explanation is that these young adolescents are not yet involved in sexual behaviors with a partner and thus are not aware of gaps in their sexual information. Given that we studied young adolescents, it is important to also investigate the responsiveness intentions of older adolescents as well as whether the responsiveness intentions of adolescents change with age and continue to be general or become topic-specific. Parents’ reports of their youth’s engagement suggest that some adolescents become more negative during sexuality discussions with their parent as they get older (see Grossman et al., 2018).
Our second research question focused on whether adolescents’ characteristics, features of previous sexual communication with their mother, and features of the mother-adolescent relationship would distinguish the three groups of youths with diverse responsiveness intentions.
Consistent with frameworks describing parent-adolescent sexual communication (e.g., Flores & Barroso, 2017; Jaccard et al., 2002), adolescents’ responsiveness intentions were related to factors from each of these domains. However, the three features of adolescents’ previous sexual communication with their mother showed the highest correlations with the significant discriminant function.
This result suggests that it is mothers communicating openness to and comfort with sexuality discussions specifically more than a generally positive mother-adolescent relationship that is particularly important for higher responsiveness intentions of young adolescents.
This interpretation is further supported by our findings that neither mothers’ provision of warmth nor mothers’ provision of autonomy support separated the groups and by previous research which also found no link between these two relationship markers and parent-adolescent sexual communication (e.g., Afifi et al., 2008; Mauras et al., 2012).
Parents who have not discussed sexuality with their young adolescent may be communicating overtly or covertly that they would find these conversations difficult. Unexpectedly, adolescents’ gender also did not separate the three responsiveness intentions groups.
It may be that more sexual communication between mothers and their daughters than sons and daughters’ greater responsiveness during these conversations, as found in past research (Jerman & Constantine, 2010; Romo et al., 2004), reflects characteristics of mothers and not adolescents’ willingness to have these discussions.
Six of the factors we investigated were significant and contributed most to the separation of adolescents in the Likely to be Responsive group and adolescents in the Unlikely to be Responsive group.
That is, adolescents in the Likely to be Responsive group reported an optimal combination of previous sexual communication with their mother that was significantly more extensive or more frequent as well as significantly more positive expected outcomes of sexual communication and more open communication and more structure in the mother-adolescent relationship.
This combination describes a scenario in which youths’ openness to sexual communication with their mother seems to reflect their experiences communicating with her in the past, both generally (i.e., about nonsexual issues) and with respect to sexuality topics specifically.
Similarly, Feldman and Rosenthal (2000) found that adolescents’ perceptions of both good mother-adolescent communication and mothers’ comfort with sexual communication predicted more positive evaluations of their mothers as sex educators. Interestingly, the mean scores for each of the previous sexual communication variables in the Likely to be Responsive group were not particularly high
(i.e., mothers’ sexual communication was not described as extensive or frequent), and the mean scores for expected outcomes, open communication, and provision of structure in the Unlikely to be Responsive group were not particularly low (i.e., at or above their midpoint).
It seems that adolescents’ responsiveness intentions are sufficiently sensitive that even small differences in key characteristics, mother-adolescent relationship features, and features of previous sexual communication are important for distinguishing youths who are likely to be responsive to sexual communication from those who are not.
Our results also shed light on the characteristics of a previously unstudied group – young adolescents who are uncertain about how they will respond to sexual communication with their mother.
They suggest that these adolescents are sufficiently comfortable with their interactions with their mother that they reported positive conversations with her about nonsexual issues yet they are hesitant to commit to being responsive to sexual communication, in part because of their more limited experiences with sexual communication.
That is, the adolescents in the Ambivalent group were significantly different from youths in the other two groups on features of previous sexual communication with their mother, with their scores on all three features falling in between those of the other groups.
However, in other ways, youths in the Ambivalent group were different only from youths in the Unlikely to be Responsive group, showing significantly higher mean scores on expected outcomes of sexuality discussions and on open communication and provision of structure in the mother-adolescent relationship. They did not differ significantly from youths in the Likely to be Responsive group on these variables.
These additional results draw attention to the importance of specific characteristics of youths and specific, but not all, features of the mother-adolescent relationship for young adolescents to be at least somewhat open rather than resistant to sexual communication.
Reviews of the efficacy of interventions for improving parent-adolescent sexual communication have indicated that these in- terventions increase many parents’ sexual communication with their adolescents (e.g., Akers, Holland, & Bost, 2011; Santa Maria, Markham, Bluethmann, & Dolan Mullen, 2015).
The results of this study provide information that could be incorporated into these interventions. For example, our finding that a substantial minority of young adolescents are likely to be, unlikely to be, or ambivalent about being responsive to sexual communication with their mother suggests that intervention facilitators could discuss with youths
H.A. Sears, et al. Journal of Adolescence 80 (2020) 136–144
Adolescents’ willingness to be responsive to sexuality discussions with their mother is key to the occurrence and tone of these conversations. Our evaluation of young adolescents’ responsiveness intentions suggests that youths’ intentions are diverse: some youths are willing to have these discussions, some are ambivalent about them, and some are resistant to them. Further, these stances are consistent across sexuality topics.
We also found that the frequency and extent of youths’ past experiences communicating with their mother about sexuality are particularly important for understanding differences among these three groups. Specific parent- adolescent relationship features and youths’ outcome expectations of these discussions shed additional light on similarities and differences between specific groups.
These patterns reflect adolescents’ willingness to be responsive to sexuality discussions initiated by their mother. Research on adolescents’ and mothers’ responsiveness to conversations initiated by the adolescent is also needed since adolescents may be more responsive in this situation.
Given that the correlates of adolescents’ responsiveness intentions we assessed are markers of only some of the elements described in frameworks used to understand parent-adolescent sexual communication (e.g., Flores & Barroso; Jaccard et al., 2002), other markers of these elements and other elements should be considered in future research.
For example, multiple source or parent characteristics, such as respect for privacy and ability to control emotions, have been identified by adolescents and young adults as important factors for effective parent-adolescent sexual communication (e.g., Holman & Koenig Kellas, 2018; Pariera & Brody, 2018).
Markers of the message or sexuality discussion, such as the relative importance of more structure and specific topics in a discussion, could also be assessed. In addition, whether specific contexts, such as youths’ recent experience with sexuality education at school or promotion of the HPV vaccine, are related to variation in adolescents’ responsiveness intentions could be examined.
A better understanding of the variation in adolescents’ willingness to be responsive to sexual communication and of factors related to their responsiveness intentions can be used to equip adolescents and their parents for these sensitive conversations.
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The background and/or significance are missing. No search history information is provided.
Review of relevant theoretical literature is evident, but there is no integration of studies into concepts related to problem. Review is partially focused and organized. Supporting and opposing research are not included in the summary of information presented. Conclusion does not contain a biblical integration.
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