Media campaigns that remind parents to talk with their children about sex are effective, according to a pediatric researcher at Brenner Children’s Hospital and Wake Forest University School of Medicine. Robert H. DuRant, Ph.D., and his colleagues studied a public service announcement (PSA) campaign aired recently in North Carolina (NC) that conveyed the message, “Talk to your kids about sex. Everyone else is.”
The campaign, which ran for nine months and featured billboard, television and radio PSAs, focused on 20 North Carolina counties which have the highest teen pregnancy rates. A telephone survey of parents in the region showed that the campaign did influence them to talk with their children about sex. The results are published in the March issue of the “Journal of Adolescent Health.”
“The campaign appeared to do what is was designed to do,” DuRant said. “This campaign was a good example of a cost-effective way to encourage parents of adolescents to communicate with their children about sensitive issues. Parents are often concerned about the way schools teach sex education and the messages their children are exposed to on television and the internet. But when parents convey their own values, attitudes and beliefs about sexual activity, birth control and pregnancy to their children it has a positive effect on their children’s behaviors.”
To assess the impact of the campaign, a sample of 1,132 parents of adolescents living in 32 counties were asked to participate in a telephone survey. Parents were asked how often they saw the PSAs, if they had, and if they intended to speak with their children about risky sexual behaviors.
The results showed the frequency that parents reported seeing or hearing the PSAs on billboards and area TV and radio stations independently influenced them to talk with their children about sexual issues. Having positive attitudes about discussing these issues and already communicating with their teen(s) about sex also impacted whether parents intended to discuss these issues openly with their children in the near future.
Although teen pregnancy rates have declined in recent years, North Carolina ranks 9th in the United States for the rate of pregnancies in teens ages 15 to 19. In 2000, 95 of 1,000 teenage girls ages 15 to 19 gave birth in North Carolina. Although there were decreases in the adolescent pregnancy rate through 2003, there was a 2.4 percent increase in the rate in 2004.
“A good deal of progress has been made, but we still have a long way to go in educating our children and their parents about risky health behaviors,” DuRant said.
The PSA campaign was paid for by the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevent Coalition of North Carolina. Television ads were purchased in the three major television markets in North Carolina, capturing more than the 20 counties originally targeted.
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Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center is an academic health system comprised of North Carolina Baptist Hospital, Wake Forest University Health Sciences and Brenner Children’s Hospital. The system comprises 1,187 acute care, rehabilitation, psychiatry and long-term care beds and is consistently ranked as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” by U.S. News & World Report. Brenner Children’s was named one of the top children’s hospitals in the nation by Child magazine.