It may sound obvious, but parents matter. Both parents matter.
However, when it comes to risky sexual behavior in teen daughters, the spotlight is on the father.
A new study from the University of Utah relates the “quality of fathering” with teen behavior.
- High quality fathering is associated with setting standards for behavior and consistent monitoring of how the teen spends her time and money. It affects with whom the teen associates and reduces the likelihood of risky behavior.
- Low quality fathering does just the opposite.
The study strongly suggests that having a low quality father out of the home may be better for daughters than keeping the family intact.
The study may in fact underestimate the negative effects of low quality fathering. In some cases, parents or other family members are the source of risky behavior.
According to an The Atlantic article from 2013,
One in three-to-four girls, and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, an overwhelming incidence of which happens within the family. These statistics are well known among industry professionals, who are often quick to add, “and this is a notoriously underreported crime.” (2)
Another review of the research literature suggests a 40% rate of molestation among girls and 30% among boys in the US. (4) In all cases, the figures are subject to some disagreement about definitions.
For those of us who know victims of family abuse, this incidence is quite plausible. In my own conversations, I’ve been flabbergasted by the people who reveal histories of abuse — people I would never have suspected. It comes out in conversations after a certain level of trust is in place. And it surfaces too many times with too many people.
Ultimately, the statistics we have are unreliable, because too many people won’t talk about this. The statistics are incomplete, as they tend to focus on father-daughter abuse and not on mother-son or sibling relations (or on abuse by authority figures other than priests).
Traditional studies have focused on “broken” families and the importance of having two parents in the home. The truth seems to be a bit more complex. There are many cases in which the “intact” family is broken and dysfunctional, and breakup represents improvement.
- Danielle J. DelPriore, Gabriel L. Schlomer, Bruce J. Ellis. Impact of Fathers on Parental Monitoring of Daughters and Their Affiliation With Sexually Promiscuous Peers: A Genetically and Environmentally Controlled Sibling Study. Developmental Psychology, 2017; DOI: 10.1037/dev0000327
- Mia Fontaine, “America Has an Incest Problem,” The Atlantic, 24 January 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/america-has-an-incest-problem/272459/
- Margaret Ballantine and Lynne Soine, “Sibling Sexual Abuse — Uncovering the Secret,” Social Work Today Vol. 12 No. 6 P. 18. http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111312p18.shtml