Despite research suggesting that parent-child communication is important for reducing adolescent risk behaviors (e.g., substance use and sexual risk taking), relatively little is known about the role of parent-child discussions in the development of adolescent dating violence (ADV). Discussions with early adolescent boys are particularly important to investigate as research suggests that parents communicate infrequently with their sons about relationship risk topics. Given the potential benefit of parent-son communication in offsetting risk for ADV, it is important to consider what the content of these discussion should be. In particular, specific parent-child discussions about how to 1) handle relationship problems, 2) manage emotions, 3) navigate technology, and 4) identify relationship values may be critical as relationship conflict, difficulties with emotion regulation, digital abuse, and violence-supporting attitudes have all been linked with ADV. Thus, this study examines the role of parent-son discussions about these key relationship topics on ADV behaviors and attitudes.
Participants were 120 parent-son dyads completing baseline assessments for a larger prevention study conducted in New England. Dyads endorsed specific discussions using an adapted version of the Miller Sexual Communication Scale. Teens completed the Conflict in Adolescent Dating Relationships Inventory, Attitudes about Relationship Violence Questionnaire, Emotion Regulation Behaviors Scale, and Social Networking and Controlling Behaviors Survey–Attitudes. Topics were coded as discussed if both parents and teens reported having had the discussion; topics were coded as not discussed if neither or only one dyad member endorsed it. T-tests were run to identify differences in ADV-related attitudes, skills and behavior between dyads with and without discussions of the relevant topic.
Parent-son dyads who reported having had specific discussions regarding how to handle problems in relationships and how to manage emotions had less involvement in DV, t(47.5)=2.29, p=.03, and better use of emotion regulation strategies, t(116)= -2.35, p=.02, respectively. Reports of discussions about values evidenced a trending difference in terms of less teen-reported tolerance of ADV compared to non-discussing dyads, t(116)= -1.95, p=.05. No differences emerged with regard to technology conversations and teen attitudes about digital abuse.
Findings suggest that specific parent-child conversations about relationship topics may prevent the emergence of ADV behaviors and encourage emotion regulation skills. More research is needed to understand how parents are conversing with their sons about technology to determine how these conversations may be more closely linked with reductions in digital abuse. Study implications, limitations and future directions will be discussed.