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Hispanic Seventh Graders – How Do Acculturation and Parent Practices Affect Their Sexual Initiation?

Daisy Y. Morales-Campos et al., “Sexual Initiation, Parent Practices, and Acculturation in Hispanic Seventh Graders,” Journal of School Health (February 2012).

The researchers explored the relationship between acculturation and parental monitoring on the sexual behavior of Hispanic seventh grade students in southeast Texas. Of special interest was age of sexual initiation. Parental monitoring was defined as a parents’ awareness of their child’s activities, friends, and physical location, while acculturation was defined as the process of cultural change resulting from two different cultural groups coming into continuous contact with one another. A total of 655 students across fifteen urban Texas middle schools participated in this randomized, controlled study.

Key Findings
Children who were more closely monitored by their parents reported a delay in sexual activity. No association was found between levels of parent-child communication and age of sexual initiation. Parental monitoring differed across varying degrees of acculturation, with youth defined as “bicultural” most subject to parental monitoring as compared to their peers in households where there was less or more acculturation to U.S. norms.

Given the continued relative lack of data on the sexual behaviors of Hispanic youth in the U.S. – particularly that of Hispanic middle school students – this study provides key insights into potential delaying factors for sexual initiation in this population. While other researchers have conducted limited studies on the relationships between acculturation, parental monitoring, and sexual behavior, few have examined all these variables in combination.

While it is not surprising that increased parental monitoring is associated with delayed age of sexual initiation, it is noteworthy that increased parent-child communication did not have the same effect in this population. The authors assert that “Hispanic parents typically indicate embarrassment or reluctance to discuss sexual topics with their child compared with African-American and White parents.” # Nonetheless, even when parents are not actively discussing sexuality topics with their children, this study provides evidence that other forms of active parental engagement still have beneficial effects on sexual risk-taking behaviors.

With 34% of Hispanic middle school students in the 2005 Middle School YRBS reporting that they have “had sexual intercourse”, # and elevated rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancies among Hispanic youth, it is imperative that research inform sexuality educators about the factors which help such youth reduce sexual health risks. The southeast Texas study was a one-time snapshot of students’ lives, and therefore limited – a longitudinal study would have provided a richer picture of the ways in which parental monitoring and acculturation really do impact the sexual choices and behaviors of Hispanic youth. Data collection may also have posed a limitation, as researchers were present in rooms where the students completed their surveys. This could result in skewed data.

Further research could examine not only the students’ perspectives but those of their parents as well: if parents are reluctant to discuss sexuality topics with their middle school children, what are their expectations of the sexuality education programs in the schools which their children attend? This could aid program planners in designing effective sexual health education programs for Hispanic communities involving both parents and students.

1Morales-Campos DY, Markham C, Fleschler Peskin M, Fernandez ME (2011). Sexual initiation, parent practices, and acculturation in Hispanic seventh graders. Journal of School Health, 82(2), 75-81, <>.

2Shanklin SL, Brener N, McManus T, Kinchen S, Kann L (2007). 2005 Middle School Youth Risk Behavior Survey. US Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed 3 October 2012, <>.