Family socialization of sexuality : parents' awareness of physical sexuality development during early childhood and adolescence
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Despite other assumptions, sexuality is a multifaceted concept important to many aspects of one’s being that develops as early as infancy. Socially, however, sexuality is not an acknowledge part of early childhood, rather something that emerges as part of puberty, during adolescence. Parents’ ability to recognize physical sexuality development milestones and interpret their meaning and place within development is crucial to promoting positive, healthy sexuality development. In this dissertation, I propose a theoretical framework for children’s sexuality development, and family socialization of sexuality, from birth to adulthood. Empirically, I examine parents’ observations and responses to physical milestones related to sexuality development during early childhood and during adolescence. Two studies juxtapose the periods of early childhood, ages 1-4 years old, and adolescence, ages 12 – 15, to examine parents’ observations, and aspects of parent-child communication at two distinct periods. In the first study, I interviewed 20 parents of young children, and found four themes that summarized parents’ awareness of sexuality development: 1) Parents rely on their own experiences to form interpretations of their child’s behaviors, 2) Parents observed, but are uncertain about sexuality development in early childhood, 3) Communication between parents about sexuality is limited or implied, and 4) Sexuality does not yet apply to their child. In the second study, I quantitatively examine whether mothers’ observations of children’s pubertal development and puberty knowledge are associated with their inclination for and initiation of puberty-related communication. Analyses of 133 mother-reports, showed mixed significant and non-significant findings. Together, these studies showcase parents’ observations of sexuality and physical development, the need for parents and researchers to reconsider the age of occurrence for sexuality and pubertal milestones, and provide empirical support to the proposed theoretical framework for children’s sexuality development within the family.