Adolescent risk behaviors such as drinking alcohol, other drug use, and early unprotected sexual activity often cooccur in a cluster of health risk behaviors that can lead to heightened risks of adolescent pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) [1
]. Behavioral interventions for adolescents have established a strong foundation noting improved protection by improving adolescent HIV/AIDS and protective behavior knowledge, attitudes, and skills [2
]. Despite successful adolescent risk reduction programming, HIV infections of young persons (13–29 years old) in the United States continue to impact 39% of all new HIV infections in 2009 [6
]. Finding diverse and effective ways to educate and motivate adolescents to reduce adolescent risk behavior continues to be a challenge.
The extent to which parents know their adolescents' activities, friends, and whereabouts (i.e., parental monitoring knowledge) has a documented influence on adolescent risk involvement [7
]. Parental monitoring is most successful when the information comes directly from the adolescent. Therefore, open communication between parents and adolescents is an essential means for improving parental monitoring knowledge [8
]. However, not all monitoring strategies are direct [10
]. Parents might also use indirect methods for obtaining information such as asking friends or reading emails and journals [10
The parental monitoring process changes over time with the age of the adolescent, the nature of the parent-adolescent relationship, and any events that may have been acknowledged [12
]. Parents and adolescents perceive parents' monitoring efforts differently [13
]. Both groups come into the relationship with different attitudes about what monitoring should entail, when it should occur, and how effective it is on a regular basis. These factors may change over time as adolescents seek greater independence and freedoms [7
]. Parental monitoring strategies, knowledge, and attitudes also differ by adolescent age and gender, parent characteristics such as income and work schedule, and the home environment (e.g., number of children in the home, number of adults) [7
]. For example, parents monitor their younger children and daughters more than their older children and sons. Less monitoring is noted in homes of single parents, multiple children, or among low-income families [7
The balance between employing effective monitoring strategies while respecting adolescents' privacy and building trust is a common concern for parents and a phenomenon that has been studied more closely over the past decade [12
]. Strategies such as negotiated unsupervised time have mixed results in terms of adolescent experimentation. However, the process of the negotiations involving parent-adolescent communication, regardless of the level of experimentation, successfully builds parent trust and a feeling of respect for the adolescents which serves as a protective factor for many risk behaviors among males and females [16
Efforts to improve parent-adolescent communication and the parental monitoring process have been made to reduce adolescent risk behavior and, in turn, reduce adolescents' risks of subsequent health problems. Stanton and colleagues [17
] developed and evaluated a parental monitoring program for inner city families. The successful home delivery of the Informed Parents and Children Together (ImPACT) program resulted in improvements in the agreement between parents and adolescents about adolescents' involvement in select risk (or protective) behaviors. Other programs have documented similar success improving parent and adolescent communication and increasing parental monitoring knowledge [18
]. Despite this success, all families enrolled in these and other programs are not equally impacted by a given curriculum. Given that these programs have not been successful for all families, there is a critical need to identify specific characteristics that contribute to a lack of response to a given intervention.
In the present study, we examined parent-adolescent dyads who participated in a program designed to improve parent-adolescent communication, parental monitoring knowledge, and parental monitoring strategies. Overall, the program improved adolescent-reported parental monitoring knowledge of their parents. Parental monitoring knowledge was associated with limited or reduced adolescent risk behaviors. However, like other parental monitoring programs, not all parents and adolescents responded to the intervention in the desired way. The interaction between parent and adolescent was an important element of the intervention. Having one individual not responding to the intervention would be potentially detrimental to the impact of the program for the dyad as a whole. We hypothesized that this outcome was partially due to the variability in parents' attitudes about monitoring.
Prior to the start of an intervention, parents have established attitudes about the extent to which a certain type and amount of monitoring protects their adolescents from risky behaviors [20
]. Parents may also have strong attitudes about the level they prefer to trust and respect the privacy of their adolescents [21
]. Finally, parents may pair a certain level of monitoring with their existing attitudes about the extent to which adolescents will naturally experiment with risky behaviors. These attitudes may not only influence adolescent risk behaviors but also strongly influence parents' monitoring and reaction to interventions as a result.
We might expect that these preintervention attitudes may impact the level to which parents invest in an intervention and also the degree to which their actual behaviors would change after the intervention. This parental monitoring program was also family based requiring both parents and adolescents to communicate about monitoring and risk behaviors. This study, therefore, provides an additional opportunity to examine how preintervention attitudinal factors impact both parent and adolescent reports of communication and monitoring over time.