Adolescent Romantic Experience: Tensions Regarding Parent-Adolescent Communication and Perceptions in the Chinese Socio-Cultural Context

Author: Ting Liu

Liu, Ting, 2015 Adolescent Romantic Experience: Tensions Regarding Parent-Adolescent Communication and Perceptions in the Chinese Socio-Cultural Context, Flinders University, School of Nursing & Midwifery

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Adolescents are in a transitional stage of their lives, in which they explore sexuality, which manifests in the development of romantic experiences (RE) and engagement in sexual behaviours. Their sexual practices are influenced by an array of socio-ecological factors in Bronfenbrenner’s model, which shows parents are situated in the microsystem. Chinese adolescents are living in a context with the clash between Chinese traditional cultural ideologies about sexuality and parenting, and increasing Western influences. This clash shapes a diversity of sexual attitudes and behaviours of adolescents. Parental communication has been identified as one approach to supporting adolescent sexual health; however, generational and cultural gaps make this problematic in contemporary China. There is only limited understanding of how Chinese parents and adolescents perceive and communicate about RE and sexuality. In response, this thesis explores understandings of adolescent RE and the associated parent-adolescent communication practice within the Chinese socio-cultural context.

Underpinned by the theoretical frameworks of social constructionism and interpretive interactionism, in-depth interviews with 38 adolescent students (aged 15 to 18 years), and 27 parents from urban North-Eastern China, were undertaken. A thematic analysis of the data identified a number of key themes around perceptions of adolescent RE and related communication, including the similarities and differences between parents and adolescents, as summarised below.

Firstly, parents and adolescents expressed a range of views about RE, including adolescents’ development process and its educational and health implications. Parents primarily took an adverse consequence-oriented approach, and conveyed messages shaped by warnings and prohibition, which functioned to deter their adolescents from romantic and sexual engagement. However, adolescents tended to address the positive components of RE and were eager to experience RE under the influence of school peers and the mass media. Secondly, parents expressed an intention to communicate in order to benefit adolescents’ sexual health and to strengthen parent-adolescent connections; however, personal, interpersonal, and socio-cultural constraints inhibited effective communication. These constraints encompassed the parental assumption of adolescent non-sexual involvement, adolescent concern about parental suspicion, low levels of parental self-efficacy in communication, power relations, the generation gap, and socio-cultural norms about sexuality and parenting in China. Adolescents displayed resistance against these constraints and expressed a desire for more open and interactive communications with their parents. Furthermore, this study demonstrated tensions within, and between, parents and adolescents in communication about sexuality which stemmed from the developmental process of adolescents, environmental influences, and parenting practices. These tensions simultaneously created challenges and potential opportunities for more productive communication.

This study suggests that, currently, the parental role in adolescent sexuality is primarily to transmit sexual beliefs and values to, and to impose monitoring and supervision on, their adolescents. However, parental communication only serves a limited function in providing specific relationship and sexual information, including safe sexual practices. The findings of this study have a number of implications for how health professionals, including community and school nurses in China, can support parents and adolescents to engage in conversations about sexuality by embracing positive intentions and considering the identified constraints and tensions.

Keywords: Adolescence, Romantic experience, Sexuality, Sexual health, Parent-adolescent communication, Parenting, Parent Role, Culture, Qualitative research, China

Subject: Nursing thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2015
School: School of Nursing & Midwifery
Supervisor: Jeffrey Fuller