Romantic feelings and intimate friendships are a normal part of physical and emotional development during the teen years. These experiences help a teen prepare for fulfilling relationships in adult life, but they can also put a teen at risk for pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Teens often act impulsively and unpredictably.
Religious and cultural beliefs can make it difficult for a parent to acknowledge that their teen might be involved in sexual activity, yet nearly half of all high school students report being sexually active. Teens who lack information and guidance are more likely to engage in risky behaviors. It is far better for your teen to receive correct information from you than to rely on advice from a website or a friend's older sister.
Here are some tips for talking to your teen about sex:
- Talk to your child early and often. Develop a relationship of trust and acceptance, so that your child feels he or she can ask questions and get honest answers. While providing facts about the potential consequences of becoming sexually active, you can explain why you think it is important to wait.
- As soon as your child shows an interest in dating, make an appointment for them to see a family doctor or gynecologist so they can discuss their concerns privately. Never assume that you are aware of everything your child is doing.
- In addition to biological facts, provide guidance about healthy relationships. Talk to your teen about dating violence, jealousy, peer pressure, and the emotional and social consequences of becoming sexually active. Help them understand that they can make responsible choices and ask for help when they need it.
- Use sexual content in movies, advertising, music, books, and the internet to start conversations, ask opinions, answer questions, and talk about values.
- Part of becoming an adult is taking responsibility for your own actions. Unless you believe your child is in real danger, respect the privacy of your teen's room, emails, texts, and correspondence.
- Talking about sex will not make your child think it is acceptable to be sexually active. Not talking about sex is likely to send the opposite message - that it is OK to be sexually active because no one seems concerned about it.
- Teens often model their behavior on the relationships they see in the home. Set an example of honesty, respect, and mature resolution of conflicts.
- Modern technology presents children with risks and challenges that you never faced in your childhood, including sexting, access to internet pornography, bullying on social media, and online solicitation. Watch for signs of trouble and talk about the dangers of texting intimate photos or responding to communications from strangers.
- Tell your teen that you love them and their welfare is your first concern. Make an agreement that if they find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, they can call you any time, day or night, and you will come and pick them up. Let them know that they can come to you with any problem, and you will not judge them.
You can find helpful information about teen sexual development on the following websites:
5 Ways the Digital Age Has Changed Teenage Sexuality, About.com Parenting Teens
A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Teen Years, KidsHealth from Nemours (http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/adolescence.html)
About Teen Pregnancy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/teens/index.htm)
Understanding Sexual Development, ACT for Youth (www.actforyouth.net/sexual_health/sexual_development)