Background: Many programmes on young people and HIV/AIDS prevention have focused on the in-school and channeled sexual and reproductive health messages through schools with limited activities for the young people's families. The assumption has been that parents in African families do not talk about sexual and reproductive health (SRH) with their children. These approach has had limited success because of failure to factor in the young person's family context, and the influence of parents. This paper explores parent-child communication about SRH in families, content, timing and reasons for their communication with their children aged 14-24 years in rural Tanzania. Methods: This study employed an ethnographic research design. Data collection involved eight weeks of participant observation, 17 focus group discussions and 46 in-depth interviews conducted with young people aged 14-24 years and parents of young people in this age group. Thematic analysis was conducted with the aid of NVIVO 7 software. Results: Parent-child communication about SRH happened in most families. The communication was mainly on same sex basis (mother-daughter and rarely father-son or father-daughter) and took the form of warnings, threats and physical discipline. Communication was triggered by seeing or hearing something a parent perceived negative and would not like their child to experience (such as a death attributable to HIV and unmarried young person's pregnancy). Although most young people were relaxed with their mothers than fathers, there is lack of trust as to what they can tell their parents for fear of punishment. Parents were limited as to what they could communicate about SRH because of lack of appropriate knowledge and cultural norms that restricted interactions between opposite sex. Conclusions: Due to the consequences of the HIV pandemic, parents are making attempts to communicate with their children about SRH. They are however, limited by cultural barriers, and lack of appropriate knowledge. With some skills training on communication and SRH, parents may be a natural avenue for channeling and reinforcing HIV/AIDS prevention messages to their children.
Reproductive Health 2010, 7:6
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