A new website developed by a team at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is giving parents the opportunity to engage in a dynamic conversation about adolescent sexual health, and not just with teens, but with fellow parents and experts in adolescent medicine across the online community, too. Parents Are T.A.L.K.I.N.G (PAT) which stands for “Teaching A Lifetime of Knowledge About Sexuality in the Net Generation”, was developed to improve adolescent reproductive health by helping parental caregivers learn new skills and information in a convenient and reliable way.
By harnessing the power of multimedia, social media, and online communities, the website delivers information about adolescent reproductive health (including puberty, birth control, and healthy romantic relationships), communication, and parenting. With its mission to promote open, honest family communication, the website grew out of feedback from CHOP family and youth advisory boards, guidance from experts in CHOP’s Division of Adolescent Medicine, and ongoing research into the needs and desires of parents and teens. PAT addresses the important role that parents play in the age of adolescence, and it provides the opportunity for parents and teens to engage in dialogue with each other and experts through an interactive forum
“Parents are an important, positive influence on adolescents’ sexual decisions,” said Aletha Akers, MD, medical director of Adolescent Gynecology Consultative Services at CHOP and Jennifer Harding, administrative director of Research at PolicyLab and the Division of Adolescent Medicine. “Adolescents who can recall a parent talking about sex are more likely to delay sexual initiation, use condoms and birth control once they become sexually active, and are less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy or get a sexually transmitted disease.”
What sparked you to create PAT?
Over the past decade, we have worked with families to develop programs to help families talk about sex. In recent years, parents have increasingly asked to have the content delivered online. Parents desire a convenient, reliable resource that can be used to teach and co-learn with their adolescent. They want online access to experts who can answer reproductive health questions and link families to adolescent-friendly reproductive services. We heard parents loud and clear, and this website responds to these requests.
What important role does social media and the online community play in your initiative? Why did you choose these platforms to reach parents?
ParentsAreTalking.com includes blogs written by experts, parental caregivers, and adolescents. The families that helped us to develop the website made it clear that they wanted to hear not only from experts, but also from other parental caregivers, and youth. They wanted a space to gain knowledge and to share their own experiences to help others. Families also expressed an interest in being able to ask questions of experts or their peers, which is what led us to create online forums. We are also working with AccessMatters, a local nonprofit that provides community education to parents and youth, who will sponsor a webinar targeting parental caregivers. Having a website directed at parental caregivers is very unique. Most online resources target youth. We seek to empower parental caregivers to be a strong part of young people’s sexual development.
Could you describe the research process behind developing PAT?
Almost a decade ago, we created our first online program for parental caregivers to teach them skills for talking with adolescents about sexual health issues. This seven-minute narrated program taught parents active listening skills. Parents loved the resources but wanted it to be longer, cover more skills, and use more real-world examples. The next version of the program was a longer animated video that we tested in adolescent clinics. Parents loved the program but again said they wanted it to be longer, to cover more material, to be a resource that could be used over-and-over as their youth got older. They also wanted it to be accessible from home and to be something they could share with their youth and use for co-learning. It is this feedback that led to the development of ParentsAreTalking.com.
When we launched ParentsAreTalking.com, we advertised the site only to parental caregivers whose child attended a well-child visit at one of CHOP’s 31 primary care clinics. We asked users to create a login so we could gather information about who was using the site. During that first year, 138 people registered to use the website. Three-quarters (76 percent) of these users were parental caregivers; the rest were providers, educators, or other interested parties from community organizations. Surprisingly, when we examined our Google Analytics data, we found that more than 1,100 users from around the world had visited the website!
The site is now accessible to anyone and does not require registration or a log in. We continue to use Google Analytics to learn how visitors are interacting with the site. This will provide valuable information in terms of site navigation, and we will adjust our site structure and content based on what we learn.
What excites you the most about PAT?
We are excited about the idea of having a one-stop shop for parents who are interested in learning more about ways to support their adolescent’s reproductive health development. We are providing what parents have told us for years they needed:
- Medically accurate content about a variety of sexual health topics (such as healthy relationships, contraceptives, and sexuality)
- Tips and examples for communicating with adolescents
- Information about effective parenting strategies for adolescents that nurture healthy sexual decision making
- Links to additional resources for learning more about adolescent reproductive health services
- Opportunities for sharing with experts, other parental caregivers, and young people.
What do you hope PAT will ultimately achieve?
We hope ParentsAreTalking.com helps parents to be better equipped to talk with their adolescents about sexual health issues. We hope these conversations are positive experiences that helps adolescents to make healthy decisions that result in delayed sexual initiation, lower rates of unintended pregnancies, lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, and higher rates of condom and birth control use among sexually active youth.
Is there anything you’d like people to know about engaging families to talk about adolescent reproductive health?
We want parental caregivers to know that it is normal for parental caregivers and teens to feel nervous about talking with each other about sexual health. But, more importantly, we want parental caregivers to know that young people report that they want to learn about these topics from their parents. So, talk early, and talk often!
Readers should also know that we are always looking for new contributors to the website. We invite providers, especially those caring for young people with unique reproductive health needs, to contribute a blog post or let us know of any resources you share with your patients. Parental caregiver and youth are also invited to reach out to us if they are interested in sharing a story or have a topic they want to see us cover.
PAT hosted their first Webinar featuring Dr. Akers and Shannon Criniti, PhD, of AccessMatters. We invite you to listen to the webinar, visit ParentsAreTalking.com, and check out the PAT Facebook page!