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TALKING TO TEENS

Communication

The two most important things you can share with your children are that you love them and you will always love them, and that you do have values and expectations for their behavior. What’s the simplest way to learn how your teen is feeling about sex? Ask them! And then sit back and listen. Really listen.

When to Begin the Conversation

Start the discussion early, and invite an ongoing dialogue. Ask questions about what they know or how they feel and encourage them to ask questions. Be an approachable parent! Conversations about love, relationships, and sex could begin as early as six and should continue through the teenage years. If your child is old enough to ask questions, he or she is old enough to receive simple, but correct, answers. By the time your child is in middle school, you need to be straightforward. You can talk about the health benefits of making good decisions and setting goals for the future.

Talk about waiting to have sex and why it is a healthy choice. And you can talk about emotions and relationships. When your teen enters high school, continue to strengthen what you have already talked about—dating relationships, values, self-discipline, and the consequences of early sex. So always leave the door open. Start talking early so that when it is time to talk about tough topics, you and your teen will have built a relationship that allows those conversations to be comfortable, to sink in and to have meaning.

Elementary School Age

You can talk about love and relationships with a child as young as six. You don’t tell a six-year-old the details about sex. But you can tell him or her about affection, love, and treating other people with respect.

And you can tell your child why he or she should always expect to be treated with respect. When your child is old enough to ask questions, he or she is old enough to receive simple and correct answers.

Middle School Age

When your child is in middle school you can be very clear with him or her. Set clear rules about dating, and tell your pre-teen or teen why it is important to make good decisions about sex. Talk to him or her about setting goals for the future. Discuss negative influences such as the media, peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, and the dangers of

technology. Talk about the physical, emotional, and social consequences of sex outside of marriage. Talk about feelings, relationships, and waiting to have sex. Talk about why waiting until marriage is a healthy choice and why waiting to have sex fits with your values.

High School Age

When your teen gets into high school, keep talking. During these years, you can get more grown up in what you talk about. Tell them what you think. Ask them what they think. Talk about dating, relationships, values, and self-control.

Continue to talk about their goals. Talk about the risks of having sex too young. Talk about ways to say “no”, and how to get out of tough situations. Make sure your child knows he or she can come to you and talk about anything.

Common Barriers to Talking

As a parent, you know that you need to provide some guidance on your child’s sexual behavior - yet, often, we are filled with fears and anxieties that keep us from having the conversation. In order to get over barriers to talking, it’s important to 1) realize the defenses or “excuses” you might be using, 2) understand the feelings you might be having,

and 3) realize the benefits to talking, which will help you feel more comfortable talking to your children.
See if you relate to some of these common defenses, feelings, and benefits of talking with your teen about abstinence from sex until marriage:

"But they're just children!"

For many parents, seeing their son or daughter move into the teen years is like losing their “baby.” Parents sometimes feel that talking about sex will make their child grow up too fast and lead to losing their special parent-child bond. The truth is, talking can actually bring parents closer to their child by keeping the lines of communication open and making sure that they keep playing an important role in their child’s life as he or she gets older.

“Not my kids. I know what they’re thinking.”

Many parents struggle with the balance between holding on and letting go of their child as they enter the teen years. Some parents feel that their child isn’t ready to talk about sex; they believe they know what they’re thinking and how they’re spending their time. But it’s not always possible to maintain control in today’s world, especially with all the sex that is shown in the media and on the Internet. The best way to affect a child’s sexual views and actions is to talk to them about waiting to have sex.

“Do I have to talk with them about THAT?”

The mere idea of talking about sex with their children makes many parents uncomfortable. That’s why it’s important to remember that parents can influence their children to wait to have sex without using explicit language. Parents can simply share their values about what they believe and want for their child. For many parents, this means encouraging children to wait to have sex until marriage. What is important is that the research shows the longer teens wait to have sex, the more likely they are to be happy and successful.

“I’m concerned how my child will view me.”

Parents understandably want to feel empowered and have their children look up to them. Some fear that talking about sex will make them look foolish in front of their children, and they may avoid having the conversation as a result. Other parents believe their children have picked up on parental cues and already know how they think and feel about the subject. But that’s not really true. Parents have important knowledge that they need to share with their children by talking. Even if the words don’t come out perfectly, parents can make a difference in their child’s life and their child will respect them for tackling the subject.

“What if I can’t answer their questions?”

All parents sometimes feel overwhelmed by parenting, especially when it comes to a difficult subject like sex. Many fear that they don’t know enough. If their child is still in the “sex is yucky” stage, parents might think it’s fine to wait; they can have the conversation later. But parents need to remember that only they can fill the role of parent. Parents don’t need to be experts on everything; they just need to get the conversation started, and they can make the conversation easier by giving small pieces of information over time. If you don’t know the answer to a question, say “let’s look it up together.” – then do it. A good place to find correct information is by looking in reliable books and websites, like these, or by talking to your family doctor.

Talking Tips

Talking about sex is without a doubt one of the most important conversations you will ever have with your kids. It’s also one of the most difficult. You need to talk with them early and often about why it’s important for them to wait to have sex. But if you’re like most parents, you’re not sure how.Here are some tips:

Use teachable moments

Many everyday events offer a natural way to ease into the conversation. Maybe it’s a scene from a movie or TV show, or perhaps a song lyric or news story. Use these, or anything else that seems right, as conversation starters.

Dole out bite-sized bits

Don’t try to cover the whole subject in one sitting. It’s overwhelming and uncomfortable for your child and you. So toss out small bits of information and opinion at a time. Little by little, your kids will get the big picture. And they’ll so appreciate not getting the big parental lecture.

Don’t Preach. Share

Let your children know how you felt when you were their age, so they know you understand what they’re going through. And don’t just talk, ask questions. This absolutely needs to be a two-way discussion. Kids really respond better when they’re talked with, not at. Believe it or not, your kids actually do want to know how you feel about sex and how you want them to behave. Of course they may never ask you about it, so you need to take the first step.

Keep things light

Talking about sex can be pretty heavy. So lighten up. Maybe use a little humor. Not to under play the seriousness of the subject, but to disarm your child’s anxiety, and yours. Don’t feel you have to make direct eye contact either - that can increase the discomfort.

What to say

When talking to your child, try to talk about sex in an honest, open way. Answer his/her questions by using accurate information. If you’re not sure what to say, or are worried about being able to teach your child correct information, look in reliable books and websites, like these, or talk to your family doctor. Youth today face constant pressure to become sexually active. Talk to your teen about his/her future and goals. Talk about the influences he/she is dealing with, and teach them how to form healthy relationships.

Healthy Relationships

Healthy relationships are based on respect, caring, trust, and a desire to help each other grow. Explain how early sexual activity can get in the way of their growth as a teen and young man or woman. Teach them to show affection without having sex. Encourage your teen to choose friends who have the same values as your family. Help your teen know that violence is never a part of a healthy relationship.

Healthy relationships do not just happen. They require effort. Healthy relationships, whether between friends, romantic partners, or family members, promote positive, healthy behaviors. They are built on trust and are founded on common goals and interests. They support and allow both people to grow and progress.

Influences

To help your teen develop healthy relationships, you need to know the influences and pressures your child is facing to become sexually active.

Hormones

Puberty is the time in life when a boy or girl becomes sexually mature. It is a physical change that usually happens between ages 10 and 14 for girls and ages 12 and 16 for boys. Puberty affects boys and girls differently.
Emotional highs and lows are tied with the changes that come with puberty as hormones are released that cause sexual feelings. These feelings lead to a natural curiosity about the opposite sex. Hormones don’t have to control a teen, however. Your child can learn to delay natural urges to gain long-term benefits and healthier goals. You can help teach your maturing teens to learn this principle of delayed pleasure instead of instant gratification.

Media Influences

Today’s culture sends teens messages every day about sex. The common theme of many movies, TV shows, song lyrics, and internet sites is that sex outside of marriage is a natural, desirable part of life: it’s normal, fun, exciting, and has no consequences. The internet becomes a dangerous place for sexual addiction because it offers isolation, fantasy, and sexual images.

Peer Pressure

Friends who become sexually active can have a strong influence on your teen. Many teens comfortably talk about the topic of sex with each other because they see it openly discussed on their favorite TV shows, movies, or songs.

Alcohol and Drugs

Alcohol is a depressant, so it blocks a teen’s normal inhibitions. Even if your child has a strong desire for sexual abstinence, drinking lowers his or her ability to think correctly and remember his or her goals. Teens who smoke are more likely to drink alcohol and use drugs. Teens who drink alcohol and use drugs are more likely to be sexually active.Teens who drink are seven times more likely than teens who don’t drink to have had sex. And teens who use drugs are five times more likely to have had sex.

Relationships and Dating

Another influence your teen faces is the idea that sex is an expected part of a meaningful relationship. Many teens don’t realize the difference between intense sexual feelings and love. Sex can be a physical act without any real commitment. In a loving relationship, you commit to caring for another person, instead of yourself. Age difference is important. Only 13 percent of young teens have sex if they date someone their same age. But if they date someone who is 2 years older, 26 percent have sex. If their partner is 3 or more years older, 33 percent of them have sex.

School

The things your child learns in health class or a maturation program can be a helpful resource and spring-board for discussion. Be informed about the curriculum and the approach the teacher is taking. Be part of the discussion! Resources