Raising a teen can sometimes feel like raising an alien from another planet. They sleep odd hours, eat strange foods, and speak what feels like an entirely different language.
However, teens are people, too, and they experience very real human emotions and physical changes. Their adolescent years are full of sexual development and identity formation — all of which can be extremely overwhelming for any teen.
As a parent or caregiver, it's your responsibility to have conversations about sex and support them through this complex time. Though it may feel awkward or embarrassing, or you feel your teen already shares everything with you, these critical conversations help your child stay safe — both physically and emotionally.
Even though many teens around 15 to 17 are sexually active, these important conversations are often short-lived — or completely non-existent. As a result, they may feel as if they are on their own in making important sex-related decisions.
Caring for a teenager is not always easy. Uncomfortable conversations are inevitable — but they're also necessary. Here are 5 tips to effectively talk to your teen about sex.
1. Know what topics you should cover (even if you don't want to).
"Use protection." "Drugs and alcohol can lower your inhibitions." And "wait until you're ready" — that tends to sum up the entirety of many conversations about sex. While these concepts are certainly important, there are plenty more sex-related topics that you should cover with your teen, such as:
- What a healthy, respectful relationship looks like, including consent, boundaries, and physical and emotional safety
- Factual information about how to prevent HIV, STDs, and pregnancy, including abstinence, contraception (such as condoms and birth control), and HIV/STD testing
- The benefits of your teen protecting themselves from HIV, STDs, and pregnancy
- Your own expectations for your teen when it comes to sex
- Resources for your teen to speak to a healthcare provider and have access to sexual health services
Let them steer the conversation sometimes, too. For instance, many adolescents have questions about sexual identity — and they need to know that these questions are perfectly natural.
Don't hesitate to talk about values, morals, and ethics when it comes to sex, as well. While a solid base of knowledge and facts is critical, you also play an integral role in helping your teen develop their own set of values.
2. Pay attention to where your teen is getting sex-related information.
The school bus can be an eye-opening place when it comes to topics of conversation. From the latest athletic event to an upcoming dance to, of course, sex, those yellow walls — and the children inside — have heard it all.
Your teen may also be learning about sex and relationships from:
- Television and movies
- Social media
- Teachers and school curricula
- Healthcare providers
- Your own relationship or the relationship of other adults
Knowing where and what your child is learning about sex can help guide conversations, confirm what's medically accurate, and debunk potentially dangerous myths. For instance, you can make it clear that oral sex still has risks and that unprotected sex — even without ejaculation — can still lead to pregnancy.
Not sure where to start? Ask your teen. As long as you approach them openly and honestly, they may be more willing to share this information than you think.
3. Go beyond "the talk" — look for frequent and natural opportunities to have conversations about sex.
While it can be tempting to have a one-time sit down about sex, that's not nearly enough time to cover everything needed to promote a healthy and safe view of sex. What's more, your teen will need time to process your conversations, and they'll continue to be exposed to new information that might spark new questions.
Unique opportunities to talk about sex with your teen include:
- In the car, where it's both private and your teen doesn't need to look at you the whole time
- After a relevant event, such as a scene in a movie or a story on the news, that promotes opportunities to talk about positive behaviors and the consequences of risky ones
- Through text messages, which can serve as a follow-up to in-person conversations
A series of discussions that occur early and frequently are much more effective than a single conversation. Plus, it opens the door for your teen to start a dialogue with you when they have questions.
4. Be honest and open.
Honesty is important in all facets of your relationship with your teen, and with sex it's just as critical. Once you've encouraged them to come to you with questions, be ready to provide them with fair and honest answers.
It's okay to say you're feeling uncomfortable, and it may even help your teen normalize that feeling. And if you don't know the answer to a question, don't make something up. This is a great opportunity to use credible resources to find the answer together.
Teens are incredibly intuitive. They easily pick up on your emotions, and in many cases, they know you're not telling them the whole truth. By remaining open and honest, you can maintain mutual trust and ensure your teen feels comfortable approaching you with any questions in the future.
5. Pay attention to your reactions — and make it a point to listen.
Sex is a highly personal topic. Don't be surprised if your teen shares personal information with you — and pay attention to your reaction if they do. This includes facial expressions, body language, and the actual language you use to respond.
Your teen may ask you for advice, or they may inquire about your own thoughts regarding a topic. You don't have to hide your opinion, but make sure they know that you value their opinion, too — even if it differs from your own.
Don't forget that conversations are a two-way street. While you will certainly be doing some of the talking, it's just as important to listen. This means not talking and letting them take the floor, which can go a long way towards establishing trust.
You May Not Love Talking About Sex — But You Love Your Teen
Let's face it — no parent or caregiver relishes the idea of talking about sex with their teen. However, it's an important reality you must face, and it's one that's critical to your teen's healthy view on sex, relationships, and identity.
In order to continue to build trust, keep these conversations going. The more you have tough conversations, the more comfortable you both will feel being open with one another.
Keep in mind — you have plenty of resources at your disposal. For instance, your child's healthcare provider can recommend credible resources for both you and your teen. Also, make sure to bring your teen to regular, preventative care appointments, which offer your teen alone time to ask questions they may not feel comfortable asking you. Be prepared to step out of the room to allow for confidentiality.
Sex can be a complicated topic, and it's normal to feel like you're a little in over your head. However, there is one message that your teen should always walk away with — you're in their corner. Whether it comes to sex or any other aspect of their life, you'll love them no matter what.
Do you have questions about how to talk to your teen about sex? Call 610-738-2300 to find a pediatrician on the medical staff at Chester County Hospital.
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