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8 May 2013

Computer Programs Useful Tool For Parents’ Sex Talk With Their Children

Keywords: computer, interview, parents, teens, Western Europe, experiment, family communication, intervention, learning, survey,

Many young people use their computers as a form of sex education. Critics fear that the internet is not the right place for teens to learn about sex, because of the access to non-educational pornographic material. However, a study in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking shows that computers can be used to educate young people about sex. Educational computer programs not only increase knowledge about sexual matters, they can enhance parent-child communication about sex as well.  

Take aways

  • An educational computer program developed for families can enhance teens’ sex education in two ways:
    • it offers potential to increase sexual knowledge.
    • it stimulates parent-child communication about sex by opening up moments and topics for discussion. 
  • However, when parents feel they lack the knowledge, or skills to educate their children, successful communication about sex is less likely to occur. 
  • Therefore, educational (computer) programs should focus on educating parents as well so they become knowledgeable and confident enough to open up the sex talk.

Study information

  • The question?

    Are computer programs targeted to families successful in educating teens about sex, and in enhancing parent-child communication about sexual matters?

  • Who?

    20 British families (15 boys, 10 girls (aged 12 to 16 years), and their parents (mostly mothers))

  • Where?

    Northeast of England, Europe

  • How?

    The study started with interviews to explore how parents and their children discuss sexual matters. They received a questionnaire as well, that revealed their sexual knowledge, and confidence in their own knowledge. Then the parents and their children were exposed to the computer program “Sense, Sex, and Relationships”. This program covered aspects of sex, relationships, and tips on how parents could enhance the ‘sex talk’. The program (on a CD-ROM) was left within the families for a week for further viewing. Afterwards, they received a questionnaire again to reveal possible change in their knowledge. 

Facts and findings

  • Children’s sexual knowledge and confidence about this knowledge increased after using the educational computer program. 
  • The sexual knowledge and confidence of the parents increased as well. 
  • The program also stimulated parent-child communication about sex.
  • Even if parents already did some ‘sex talk’ with their children, the computer program stimulated further conversation, because it opened up moments and topics for discussion.
  • Communication within families tended to be better when children perceived their parents as knowledgeable, or as a role model. 
  • In contrast, parent-child communication progressed less smoothly when parents felt embarrassed to talk with their children about sex matters, because they felt they lacked the right skills and knowledge to do so. 
  • Critical note: The researchers studied only 20 families, and the conclusions may not hold for all families.