During the teenage years, adolescents experience a variety of physical and emotional changes. As they begin to discover their sexual identity, teens face many temptations. It is important for parents to talk to their children about feelings and educate them about sex and related responsibilities.
- Growing Up Fast
- Talking to Your Teen
- Tips for Talking about Sex
Growing Up Fast
As he or she grows into adolescence, your teen is bound to experience a range of sexual emotions and thoughts. Your teen’s relationships may take on new meaning as he or she begins to develop natural feelings of affection for others.
Your teen may begin to feel peer pressure to lose his or her virginity or to get involved sexually. These sexual emotions can be as confusing as they are strong, making it difficult for him or her to talk about them with others, especially parents.
Think back to that age. You may have felt too embarrassed or uncomfortable to talk to your parents about sex. You may have felt that your feelings were your private matter and that your parents could not possibly understand. Your child may feel the same way.
Nonetheless, the longer a parent goes without talking to a child about sex, the greater the risks.
With the potential for contracting diseases like AIDS, sex has become a life and death matter. Two-thirds of sexually active American teenagers do not regularly use any form of contraception. More than one-third of American girls become pregnant at least once during adolescence.
Teens may learn about the facts of life in sex-education class, but they need a moral framework and proper role models to reinforce the important life lessons that cannot be taught in a classroom.
Studies show that adolescents are actually less likely to rush into sexual relationships if they are properly educated about sex, birth control and health concerns.
Some parents fear that talking about sex will encourage their kids to try it. It is also common to feel denial and to assume that your teen could not possibly be sexually active. Rise above these feelings, and take responsibility as a parent to sit down with your child and talk about sex.
Talking to Your Teen
Experts say it is best to begin talking to your child about difficult issues like sex and drugs during his or her preteen years (ages 10 to 12), before he or she may become sexually active. By broaching the subject early enough and reassuring your child that he or she can feel comfortable talking to you anytime, you will have a better chance of getting your teen to listen, open up and adopt your values.
If you wait until your child is a young adult before first discussing the topic of sexual responsibility, you may have a difficult time getting through to him or her. Nevertheless, it is never too late to start.
Approach the topic subtly. Wait for the right time, perhaps the moment after your teen sees a television scene that implies adult situations or right after your child comes to you for advice on a different subject.
Do not expect your teen to bring up the topic of sex. Instead, take the initiative, and begin the conversation.
- Consider asking a question such as, “Do you like any boys at school?” or “Have you ever kissed a girl?”
- Lead the conversation a bit deeper.
- Talk about how you and your spouse met and the feelings you felt for each other.
- Discuss the responsibilities of a mature relationship.
Gradually, get your child to open up about his or her beliefs and feelings. Aim for a healthy, honest and calm dialogue. However, if your teen feels uncomfortable, do not force him or her to talk. Attempt the conversation at a better time.
Tips for Talking about Sex
- Be honest. Admit that it may not be easy for your teen to talk to you about these issues, but emphasize that you care enough about him or her to discuss the topic openly.
- Be clear about beliefs and expectations. If you feel strongly that your child should abstain from sex until marriage, tell him or her. If you believe that sex is only meaningful when two people love each other, share your view.
- Know and teach the facts. What is the legal age of sexual consent in your state? If your teen is underage, warn him or her of the potential consequences. Educate your adolescent with straight facts about teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as AIDS, herpes and gonorrhea. Convey the consequences of STDs: sterility, sexual dysfunction and possible damage to an unborn fetus if the disease goes undetected. Tell your teen that roughly 75 percent of STD sufferers are between the ages of 15 and 24.
- Establish rules (e.g., no boys are allowed over when parents are not home; no serious dating prior to a certain age, etc.). Stress the repercussions of irresponsible sexual behavior. However, avoid turning your talk into a finger-pointing lecture, and do not use scare tactics or threaten to not support your teen (e.g., “If you get pregnant, I will not be involved in caring for your child.”).
- Discuss abstinence and alternatives to sex. Reassure your adolescent that there is nothing wrong with staying a virgin and practicing abstinence. Depending on your personal or religious beliefs, you might consider suggesting any alternatives to sex that you yourself might practice.
- Talk about birth-control methods. If your adolescent is going to engage in sexual conduct, it is better that he or she knows the proper ways to protect himself or herself. Consider sending your daughter to a doctor to get a prescription for an oral contraceptive. Always strongly recommend using condoms to prevent disease and pregnancy.
- Teach your child to say and mean no. Discuss the importance of refusing unwanted sexual advances. Teach him or her how to defend himself or herself and seek help. Warn him about the dangers of alcohol or drugs impeding his or her judgment. Remind your teen to respect no when someone else says it.
- Discuss different scenarios. Ask your teen what he or she would do in particular situations (e.g., if a date asked her to come back to his place after a night out).
- Acknowledge your teen’s feelings. Teenage sexual thoughts and emotions occur naturally and often. Experiencing them does not make your teen a bad person. Refrain from making accusations and being too judgmental.
- Be realistic. Your teenager is going to be tempted to have sex. You can continue to forbid it, but you really cannot stop him or her.
- Stress the positives. Emphasize that sex will be a joyous experience when your child is mature and responsible enough to handle it and can share it with a loving partner. Explain that sex cannot guarantee a closer or longer relationship and that first experiences rarely mimic what is depicted on television and in the movies.
- Reassure your teen that you will continue to provide advice and support. Let your teen know that you trust him or her to make the right decisions. Remind your adolescent that you are always available to talk. Convince your teen that you will refrain from overreacting if he or she is honest and open with you.
- Show your teen that you care by being willing and available to discuss difficult issues. If your adolescent knows that you will be calm and open-minded, he or she will feel comfortable confiding in you. Learn to listen carefully to your teen’s needs and concerns, and trust him or her to make the right choices.
This is a challenging time for both you and your teen,but staying open and communicating is the key.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov
- Planned Parenthood: plannedparenthood.org
- Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: rainn.org