According to a study conducted by the Sage Journal of Adolescent Research, teens say that parents, not friends, influence their decisions about sex more than anyone. But that’s only if their parents take the time to talk to them. So as tough as it may seem at times, and as savvy as your child may appear to be, having open and honest conversations about sex is important. Having “the talk” allows us to shape our teens into adults who will be better prepared for healthy, meaningful relationships. We acknowledge that it’s awkward talking about sex. And we expect you to get a fair amount of eye-rolling. But don’t be discouraged! Here are 7 tips for talking about sex with your know-it-all teen. Who knows? You both may even bond over the discussion.
#1 | Avoid Assumptions
Don’t assume that just because the world is consumed with digital media, that young people have heard it all. It’s vitally important that we give our kids accurate information with clarity and infused with our own family values. When we assume kids already know, we deny them the knowledge that serves as the foundation of healthy sexuality. On a very basic level, we have to start with how the body works, and then move on to understanding the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
Also, don’t assume that teens understand everything we tell them. Better yet, don’t assume that we understand everything they’re trying to tell us. To ensure clarity, ask your teen to repeat back what they’ve understood from you. And vice versa, repeat back to them what you think you’ve understood. I can’t tell you how many times my own daughter has told me that I completely missed the mark with what she was trying to tell me. Ask for further clarification and be ready to repeat and re-frame information in a way they’ll better understand.
#2 | Listen
The more our kids confide in us, the more we’re able to guide them. Really listening to our teens is key in getting them to talk. Sometimes less words coming from us means more words coming from them. Encourage your child to talk to you — but don’t freak-out with what they might say!
Earning their trust means trying as hard as possible not to judge while they’re sharing. Let your teen know that you value his or her opinion, even if it’s different from yours. Be factual in the responses you give. and pay attention to their reactions to your responses. If you’re asked a question that catches you off-guard and you’re not prepared to answer, be honest and say you’ll get back to them later.
#3 | Don’t Lecture
We all know that teens are gifted at tuning-out our lectures, so take the time to consider your child’s point of view. When discussing sex, we need to show support and convey our trust that they can make good decisions. When we start telling them what to do or react from an emotionally-driven place, we push them away. Sometimes we even push them towards the very behaviors we fear.
As parents, we often give lectures during heated moments. Kids hear our anger and feel the fear, but don’t benefit from the thoughts. Offer those same thoughts in a way that allows your teen to calmly absorb the information. Give them space to shape their own conclusions. When kids figure things out on their own (even when we guide them), they’re more likely to follow the advice and retain the values.
#4 | Keep it General
Yes, your teen needs facts about sex — but it’s just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes and mutual respect. We know teens reject parental input, especially when they think it strays into their personal business. Trying to talk to your teen about sex crosses that line into the “too personal zone.” Talking about specific relationships or asking about specific sexual behaviors will more than likely get you shut out.
On the other hand, keeping conversations general lets you get into more serious dialogue in a more comfortable way. Kids are more inclined to discuss issues like emotional and sexual safety when you’re not directly talking about them.
#5 | Discuss Readiness
If you’ve gotten the green light to get more in-depth and personal, you should delicately address if your child is actually ready for sex. According to the Mayo Clinic Sex Education guide, peer pressure, curiosity and loneliness may steer some teenagers into early sexual activity. Remind your teen that there’s no rush. It’s perfectly OK to wait, despite what their friends might be doing. Engaging in sexual activity comes with a long list of emotional consequences that your teen might not be ready for. Let them know that there are many other ways to express affection.
There’s a lot to be said for intimate talks, long walks, kissing and touching. If your child is being pressured by their boyfriend or girlfriend, explain that no one should have sex out of a sense of obligation or fear of loss. Impress upon your teen that “no” always means no. And emphasize that alcohol and drugs impair judgment and reduce inhibitions, leading to unsafe situations.
#6 | Address Sexual Orientation
What if your child thinks he/she is gay? A study conducted by the CDC confirms that many teens wonder at some point in their development whether they’re gay or bisexual. In other words, this is completely normal. Help your teen understand that he or she is just beginning to explore sexual attraction and that these feelings may change. Reassure them, however, that if they don’t, that’s perfectly fine too. They need to know without a doubt that you accept them.
A negative response to your teen’s questions or assertions about homosexuality can have negative emotional consequences. According to the Mayo Clinic, “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth who lack family acceptance are at increased risk of sexually transmitted infections, substance abuse, depression and attempted suicide.” Family acceptance and unconditional love protects against these risks. Praise your teen for sharing his or her feelings with you, and reread tip #2 above.
#7 | Acknowledge that Sex is Beautiful
Too often, when we talk with our kids about sex, we only talk about the dangers and consequences. But what about all the positive feelings surrounding it? Think back to your teenage years. Do you remember butterflies in your stomach from your first crush? What about the joy you experienced discovering that someone you liked, actually liked you back? Or the thrill of your first kiss? Our teens need to hear from us, as loving adults, about the pleasures of sexuality. We need to teach them to appreciate and respect the bodies they have been given. They need to understand what their bodies can do — when the time is right — and how to keep them healthy. Discuss with your child the emotional benefits of choosing to be abstinent, while still discussing all the normal feelings that surround a loving, physical relationship.
Discussing sex with your teen is a multi-layered and lofty task. For additional information and a great list of resources, check out this guide provided by the CDC. If you have any successful tips for talking about sex with your teen, please share with us in the comments below. For tips on another important conversation to have with your kids about money and debt, check out this blog post.
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