By Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood.
A recent Dear Abby submission came from a woman whose teenage daughter confided in her that she was sexually active, and asked her mother if she would buy her condoms. The mother purchased condoms and then learned that her daughter was supplying them to her girlfriends who couldn’t talk with their own mothers about sex. While it’s great that this teenager has such a great relationship with her mother that she feels comfortable bringing up tough topics, this situation illustrates that more teens need help doing the same.
It’s okay to be nervous about talking with your teens about sex, but it turns out that parents are less anxious about talking about these topics than teens are. A survey released last year from Planned Parenthood and Family Circle, with assistance from the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University, found that only 18% of teens reported they were very comfortable talking with their parents about sex.
We know that teens need guidance and direction, and often name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sex.
Teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners and use condoms and other contraceptives when they do have sex. Teens may worry about their parents’ reactions, but the truth is that most parents welcome the chance to talk about these issues. As parents, we want our kids to feel comfortable confiding in us and coming to us for advice. We can try to make these conversations as natural as asking them about school, and encourage teens to open up whenever a topic comes up related to sexuality. For instance, when teens ask what we think about something “a friend” may be doing, that’s often their way of trying to assess what our values are and whether we are going to overreact or be extremely judgmental. Be careful not to get upset if they bring up sex and dating, because we want to keep the lines of communication open. But do take the opportunity to share your values and expectations related to when sex should and shouldn’t happen, how to deal with pressure to have sex, and the importance of caring, respectful relationships and using condoms and birth control when sex does take place.
The Dear Abby piece brings up another issue: Teens probably will share any information you give them with their friends. So it’s a good idea for parents to think about some of the issues that may arise in advance—this way, you’re prepared for whatever your kids may bring up over the years.
Here are some things to consider if you are the parent of a teenager:
· What will you say if you realize your teen is looking at pornography online? · What message will you give to your child about masturbation? · What dating rules do you plan to have? · What will you tell teens about sharing personal information online and the risks of activities such as sexting? · What would you say if your teen is interested in a member of the same sex? · How will you help your teen stay safe and healthy once s/he becomes sexually active? · Will you buy your teen condoms, or take your daughter to get birth control?
To help ease some of the discomfort that young people may have, Planned Parenthood designed "Awkward or Not?,” a quiz teens can take on their cell phone or computer that allows them to explore their feelings about communicating with their parents and offers encouragement and tips to start talking. There’s also a funny video they can watch, “How to Talk with Your Parents About Sex,” with some do’s and don’ts about bringing up sexuality topics with their parents.
Planned Parenthood also offers resources for parents to help start and improve these conversations, including information, videos and tips for talking to children of all ages on Planned Parenthood’s Tools for Parents page and the Let’s Talk Month page, including “Parenting Tips,” a series of interactive videos on talking to your teens about sex and relationships; a fact sheet and information on parent-child communication and a tip sheet on talking to your kids; and information on setting boundaries, helping teens delay sex, parenting LGBTQ kids and more.
With more tools than ever before to help initiate these important conversations, there’s never been a better time to talk with our teens.
Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieKantor.