Parents and Children Talking: A Text Message Intervention

Carl Sneed, California State University Dominguez Hills
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Targeted Theme: Contextual, Cultural, and Structural Issues in HIV Prevention and Care
Innovative, Developmental, Exploratory Award (IDEA)

Most research has found that children who talk to their parents about sex, are less likely to have sex. In addition, prior research has found that parent-child communication is associated with less sexual risk behavior among adolescents that have already had sex. Many interventions to promote parent-child communication about sex focus on multiple workshops interventions. These types of interventions require parents to attend several lengthy workshops to learn to talk to their children about sex. Although attending a series of workshops may help a parent learn how to talk to their child about sex, many parents may not have the time to take part in a series of workshops. Uniquely, this study examines the possibility of a text-message intervention to promote parent-child communication about sex that can be utilized by a wider audience of parents. This research asks the following question, "Can text messages sent to mobile phones be used as an intervention to promote parent-child communication about sex?"

This study will be carried out in two stages. In the first stage, focus groups (small group discussions) will be carried out with 12 Latino and 12 African American mothers. A second set of focus groups will be carried out with children between the ages of 15 to 16 (8 African Americans and 8 Latinos). The focus groups will be used to gather feedback on how the text message intervention should be conducted (length of messages, content of messages, timing of messages, and frequency of messages). The focus groups will also be used to get parent and child feedback on the type of questions that can be used to evaluate the intervention. In the second stage of the study, the text-message intervention will be tested with 50 families with children between the ages of 15-16 (25 Latino and 25 African American). As part of the intervention, the mother and child will receive one to two text messages per week over a six month period. The content of the text-messages will include prompts and tips for talking with children about sex, tips for general communication, facts on parent-child communication about sex, and facts on adolescent sexual behavior (percent of children that have had sex in the United States, Percent of minorities infected with STDs and HIV). As part of the study, the mothers will keep a diary of the interactions that occurred with her child as a result of the text-message. Prior to receiving the first set of text-messages, the mother and child will complete a baseline questionnaire. The questionnaire will include questions to judge parental monitoring, parent-child communication (including topics discussed with children about sex), type of family (for example, single parent), and intentions to talk about sex. At the end of the six-month text message intervention, the mother and child will complete a follow-up questionnaire.

It is expected that text messages will serve as cues to action for parents and children to talk to each other about sex. The content of these conversations are expected to improve as well as their frequency. Consequently, improved content and more frequency will lead to decreased sexual risk behavior among adolescents.