Talking With Teens About S-E-X

All parents like to think that their child, whether daughter or son, will always behave properly and responsibly and not have any kind of sexual relations before they are 21 years old. Parents who actually believe this have probably forgotten what it was like to be a teenager.

Teenagers are curious and their hormones are raging. They are experiencing feelings and emotions they have never had to deal with before. And, let's face it, most will do the exact opposite of what you tell them. But that doesn't mean they aren't capable of behaving responsibly. However, if you limit your child's knowledge about sex with the attitude "if they don't know about it, they won't do it" you could be doing more harm than good. Teens will have sex whether you want them to or not. Some will decide that they want to wait or abstain for either moral or religious reasons. Others will not.

Regardless of what you think your child will do, it is important to talk with them about sex. Making sex a taboo or "off limits" topic of discussion may actually pique their interest more and cause them to experiment with little or no knowledge about what they're getting themselves into. It might be scary and uncomfortable talking about sex with your child, and they might go running from the room screaming and covering their ears the first few times you try to bring it up, but be persistent (in a casual way).

Developing a Relationship
It is very important to keep the lines of communication open. It is also important to remember not to lecture your child. Don't tell them what you think is best for them but do tell them about your own experiences as a teenager. What were issues that you had? How did you deal with them? What did you think of your parents when they tried to help (or avoided the situation altogether)?

Be Honest and Open
Also, be honest and open about your position on issues today. Your attitude towards sex as a teenager may not be the same as your attitudes today. If you are candid about your own feelings around this subject, it will help your teenager feel more comfortable and make them more willing to discuss their own feelings.

However, they may not want to tell you everything right away. You might have to start out slow and maybe you'll be doing all the talking in the beginning. As your teenager starts to feel more comfortable, they will start talking more. But be prepared to hear things that you may not agree with and try to deal with it calmly. Just because you are opposed to sex before marriage doesn't guarantee that your child will be. If you are confronted with an opposing view, don't start yelling or preaching to your child. This will send the message that you only want to talk if they agree with you. Instead, calmly ask questions; try to get a better idea of why they feel the way they do.

Perhaps there are some issues, like abortion, that you do not have a clear idea of what your position is. If it comes up, be honest and say you're not sure where you stand on the issue and explain why. Also, make sure it is a two-way conversation. Ask your child questions, maybe use a situation from a television show that you're watching together, and listen to what they say. Don't interrupt! If you're constantly cutting them off, they'll feel like you're not hearing what they actually have to say.

The Negative Effects of Media
It has been well documented how the media sends very sexual messages to its audiences. As a result, your child may be confused about what is fact and what is fiction when it comes to sex and sexual relations. They may also have the impression that sex has no consequences and casual sex is no big deal.

Talk with your kids about any objections you might have to the messages they are absorbing. Also, be sure to make it clear that sex does carry the very real consequences of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI's). While censoring what your children watch and read may seem like the best solution, it can actually make the censored material more appealing to your child. Many parents choose to set limits on what their child watches and reads. Although this solution might work for some, for many others it causes their children to seek out the "forbidden fruit" even more.

An alternative to banning certain movies or television shows would be to watch the television show or movie together and then have an open discussion about what the two of you have just watched. If you have other children that are close in age, you could make it family event thereby encouraging discussion with every member. This will help your teen to feel more comfortable about discussing issues with you (it's a lot easier to talk about a hypothetical sex situation on television than a real one that might be in your teen's life). Plus, it gives your teen the tools to start questioning the media rather than just accepting everything at face value.

Set A Good Example
Don't forget that all children learn by what they see, not just what they hear, so make sure you set a good example for them. Be sure to treat others with respect and to act responsibly in your relationships. Teach your daughter to stand up for herself and explain that she is allowed to say no whether it is to sex, drugs or just doing something she doesn't agree with.

Make sure your son sees women being treated with respect and that he understands that no means no regardless of who says it. But also teach your son that he can say no. He doesn't have to have sex if he doesn't want to, even if he thinks all his friends are. In your discussions with your daughter or son, talk about how to avoid getting into an unwanted sexual situation. You may also want to impose limits on your daughter or sons' relationships but be realistic! Your child will want to date before they are 25 years old. You may want to discourage your child from dating someone significantly older or younger than them. A two or three year age difference is usually okay; ten is not.

Know Their Friends
Also, get to know their friends. Even if you never see them, at least know their names and how your teen knows them. If they are going out, ask where they're going, with whom and when they'll be back. To help encourage your teen to follow this, you might also want to follow this rule. If you decided to establish a curfew, include your teen in the process through an open dialogue. If your teen feels as though they are part of the decision making process, then they are more likely to abide by the rules. If your 12 or 13-year-old starts showing an interest in dating, you might want to encourage going out with a group of friends rather than just one-on-one.

The Importance of Education
Another important area of a teen's life is school. For many teens, school comes to be more of a place for socializing and less of a place for learning once they hit 13. Encourage your daughter or son to balance the two. Show them the importance of having an education and all the opportunities that exist for someone with a higher level of education. You might want to look into universities or colleges away from your hometown or even abroad. Many teenagers can't wait to start the adventure of life. Knowing that they have many exciting opportunities ahead of them may encourage them to make the right choices in life.

Stay aware of your teen's grades; often the first sign of trouble in a teen's life is a sudden drop in their grades. Don't limit your child's learning to school, though. If they have a hobby or interest, encourage them to pursue it outside of school. Sign them up for a weekend class at a community center or maybe get them involved in a community sports team. Be sure to support their achievements, no matter how small, so that they know they have accomplished something and that what they do is important to you.

Building a relationship with your child is important but it can take a lot of work, especially when they are teenagers. Let's face it, parents are rarely viewed as "cool" when you're 14 years old. As frustrating as it may be sometimes, keep at it. Talking with your teenager and being involved in their life is one of the best ways to ensure your child will act responsibly when it matters.

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