THURSDAY, June 23, 2011 (HealthDay News) -- Who do teens look to as role models for healthy sexual behavior? According to a new Canadian study, they look first to the example set by their parents, not to friends or the media.
In their survey of more than 1,100 mothers of teenagers and almost 1,200 teens between the ages of 14 and 17, researchers found that when it comes to sexuality, 45 percent of the teens considered their parents to be their role model, compared to just 32 percent who looked to their friends.
Only 15 percent of the teens said celebrities influenced them, the investigators found.
The researchers also pointed out that the teens who saw their parents as role models most often came from families where talking about sexuality is encouraged. These teens, who were able to discuss sexuality openly at home, were also found to have a greater awareness of the risks and consequences of sexually transmitted diseases.
"Good communication within families and especially around sexual health issues is associated with more responsible behaviors," study author Dr. Jean-Yves Frappier, researcher at the University of Montreal's affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Centre, said in a university news release.
Despite this finding, the survey showed that 78 percent of the moms questioned believed their children looked to their friends when deciding about sexual behaviors. And the mothers often said that they felt a lack of involvement by their child's father was particularly detrimental.
"Parents seem to underestimate their role and the impact that they have," noted Frappier. "Health professionals and the media have an important role to play in empowering parents and enabling them to increase their communications with their children with regards to sexual health issues."
The survey's findings were slated for presentation Saturday at the Canadian Pediatric Society's 88th Annual Conference in Quebec City.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The American Academy of Pediatrics provides more information on how parents can talk to their teenagers about sexuality and why it's important.