Ecological context of African American teens' sexuality: Exploring risk and protective factors

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Child and Family Studies


Norma J. Burgess


Teens, Sexuality, Protective factors, Risk factors, African-Americans

Subject Categories

African American Studies | Arts and Humanities | Family, Life Course, and Society | Psychology | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Psychology | Sociology


The purpose of this study was to examine the ecological context that informs the sexual behavior of African American teens. To address this, a conceptual model was formulated that investigated the link between neighborhood risk, economic hardship, intergenerational teen parenting, parent-teen silence, and teenage sexual risk-taking. A secondary aim of the study eyed the role of teacher involvement and youth's future aspirations as mediator and moderator variables of this relationship. 209 African American high school students from an urban community participated in the study. Each participant completed a questionnaire, which consisted of an Ambient Hazard Scale, Parent-Teen Sexual Risk Communication Scale, Perceived Life Chances Scale, a Teacher Involvement Scale, and a background scale.

Based on multiple regression analysis, results from this study supported a significant positive relationship between neighborhood risk and economic hardship on increased teenage sexual risk-taking behavior. Teacher involvement was found to mediate the relationship between parent-teen silence and teenage sexual risk-taking. When parents and teens did not discuss sexual issues it was associated with decreased teacher involvement in the youth's life. Decreased teacher involvement was associated with increased risky sexual behavior on the part of the adolescent, suggesting that teachers play a pivotal role in regulating teen sexual behavior. Furthermore, a marginal interaction effect was found between future aspirations and parent-teen silence. Youth who discussed sexual issues with their parents and had high aspirations about their future were less likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors. Conclusions drawn from this study underscore the importance of understanding adolescent sexual behavior within an ecological context. Moreover it highlights the pivotal role that neighborhood risk, parent-teen discussions of sexual issues, and teacher involvement play in teens' sexual decision-making.


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