Autor: ---- Fuente: The Howard Center

The new kid on the adolescent development block, “positive youth development” is the latest strategy of federal and state welfare agencies to address the needs of at-risk youth by downplaying the problems they face and “empowering” them to make “healthy choices.” To what extent this approach will work is not clear, but a study by health researchers at the University of Oklahoma suggests that the youth development agenda — ensuring, for example, that teens have adult mentors, are involved in after-school and church activities, and set future goals — does not match the protective effects of living in an intact, two-parent family.

Interviewing 1,250 parent-teen pairs from inner-city households in two midwestern cities, the researchers investigated how the relationship between nine youth “assets” and four measures of sexual behavior vary according to family structure. As to be expected, the teens living with single parents reported risk behaviors in greater proportion than their peers from intact families. Differences in two measures were statistically significant (p<.05): Teens living with single parents were less likely to report being virgins (55 percent) than were teens from two-parent families (70 percent); these teens were also less likely to have lost their virginity by age 17 (15 percent) than their peers from intact families (30 percent).

More central to this study, teens living with married parents were less in need of the nine protective assets, as only one asset (community involvement) exerted a statistically significant positive effect on their already higher levels of virginity. The nine assets paid greater dividends with teens from single-parent households, yet even here the results were mixed.

Among teens living with single parents, only one of the nine protective assets (expressing a commitment to stay in school) significantly increased the likelihood of a teen being a virgin, relative to those who did not express such a commitment (odds ratio, 1.8). Another asset (exercising and eating well) significantly lowered the odds ratio of a teen in a single-parent household losing his or her virginity before age 17 while two assets (having responsible friends and good family communication) were each associated with promiscuous teens using contraception. The variable measuring the effects of youth’s cumulative number of assets also yielded more significant effects among teens from single-parent households.

While the researchers believe their findings justify interventions to increase youth assets—some of which are more promising than others—they unfortunately fail to recognize the obvious: That what youth really need are married parents, the asset that trumps all others. Until “interventions” focus on the recovery of responsible, i.e., married parenthood, it may be a long time until youth risks decline.

(Source: Roy F. Oman, Sara K. Vesely, and Cheryl B. Aspy, “Youth Assets and Sexual Risk Behavior: The Importance of Assets for Youth Residing in One-Parent Households,” Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 37 [March 2005]: 25-31.)
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