Parents learn at work to talk to teens about sex

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A new program helped parents learn to talk frankly with their teens about sex -- and they learned it at work, U.S. researchers said on Thursday

“Parents are desperate for advice on how to talk with their kids about sex,” Dr. Mark Schuster of Children’s Hospital Boston, whose study was published in the British Medical Journal, said in a statement.

“They know it’s important, but their own parents didn’t talk with them, so they don’t know where to begin.”

When given the right tools, parents in a workplace training program learned to successfully navigate such delicate subjects as condom use, sexually transmitted diseases, the consequences of pregnancy, and how to say no to unwanted sexual advances, Schuster said.

The research comes amid news that the birth rate for U.S. teenagers in 2006 increased for the first time since 1991. Earlier this week, a U.S. survey found that dating relationships and dating abuse can begin as early as age 11.

Schuster’s study involved 569 parents employed at 13 large public and private work sites in southern California who either participated in the program or were part of a control group.

Parents in the training arm of the study attended eight weekly lunch-hour sessions, in groups of about 15.

Parents were taught to listen to their children without interrupting or starting to lecture. They also learned how to teach their children decision-making skills, assertiveness skills, and to have confidence in interacting with peers.

Between meetings, parents would go home and practice these skills on their teens.

“We’d teach them some skills one week, and they’d come back the next week bubbling over with excitement that they’d talked with their teen about relationships, love, or sex, and -- this was the best part -- their teen had actually engaged in a real conversation with them,” Schuster said.

Surveys done one week, three months and nine months after the program ended measured its effects.

Parents in the program said they had more talks with their teens about sex and they discussed more new topics on sexual matters than ever before.

And their teens, who were also surveyed, said one week after the program ended that 18 percent of parents who had participated in the program had reviewed the steps of using a condom, compared to 3 percent of the control group.

Nine months after the program had ended, 25 percent of parents who had taken part in the program had reviewed with their teens how to use a condom, versus just 5 percent of parents who were in the control group.

Schuster said the program was modeled after workplace health promotion programs for weight loss or smoking cessation.

“It turned out that employers loved the idea,” he said.

“They are under pressure to create family-friendly workplaces. And they’re often providing the health insurance for these kids, so they are concerned about lost productivity when parents are distracted with their kids’ sexual health issues.”

Schuster led the study while at RAND Corp., where he was director of health promotion and disease prevention until late last year. The study was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Editing by Will Dunham