Written on May 28, 2014 at 3:31 pm , by Family Circle
By Leslie Kantor, vice president of education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Prom and graduation season is an excellent time to have conversations with our teens about sex—what they anticipate happening, what their date or friends might envision, and how to handle the potent mix of alcohol, drugs and sexual pressure that is likely in the mix.
Studies show that teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to make healthy choices like waiting until they are older to have sex, and using birth control and condoms when they do decide to. You can empower your teens to make smart, safe choices by discussing the importance of having good communication with partners and using condoms and contraception. Proms and graduations should be very positive events in a teenager’s life, and with your help, they’ll be prepared and able to focus on enjoying themselves.
Keep the lines of communication open.
Talking with your teenager about sex may be awkward and uncomfortable at first, and owning up to that can help relieve tension. You can try saying something like, “It’s totally normal that this feels awkward, but I love you and care about you so we need to talk about important things like this.” In time and with practice, it will get easier. The key is to keep the conversation open and ongoing.
If you’re allowing your teen to spend the night outside the home or stay out later than usual, talk about what you expect of them and help them think about how to handle peer pressure or difficult situations.
Practice things to say and ways to handle different situations.
As parents, we can help our teens by warning them about the lines they might hear and situations they may find themselves in. We can help them practice assertive responses that feel right to them, from saying no to sex to setting boundaries about what they want and don’t want to do. For teens that are going to engage in sex, making sure they are prepared with condoms is essential, as is what constitutes consensual sex so that teens are clear that when someone is drunk, they can’t actually consent to sex.
Talk with them about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
The reality is that 63% of high school seniors have had sex. Even if you want your teen to wait until they are out of high school or much older to have sex, it’s still important that they know how to protect themselves from STDs and getting pregnant before they head off to college, or start jobs that will inevitably force them to face sexual decisions and pressures.
Make sure they’re prepared.
You might want to make sure they have condoms with them on prom night and consider having your teen get a method of birth control as well. Chances are that that first year away at college or working, opportunities for sex will arise, so it’s better that he or she is prepared.
Get more information.
If the thought of helping your teen navigate these decisions feels a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Many college health centers provide condoms and birth control, and you and your teen can always visit a Planned Parenthood health center for information and care. They can also check out Planned Parenthood’s mybirthcontrolapp.org, which is designed to help older teens find methods that will work well for them, which they can then discuss with a health care provider.
Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieKantor.
Written on May 9, 2014 at 11:48 am , by Rosalind Wiseman
Let’s be honest. When we say “teen pregnancy” we really mean “girls getting pregnant.” It’s as if all boys cared about was having sex—without giving a thought to the possible consequences. But it’s not as simple as that. Almost all the young men I’ve worked with who experienced a pregnancy scare (or a pregnancy) had complicated reactions to it.
To get some insight into the boy perspective, I asked Tom,* one of the young men who helped edit my recent book Masterminds and Wingmen, to share what he went through with his high school girlfriend. Here’s what he shared:
“When I was a junior in high school, I had a girlfriend who was a senior. We lost our virginity to each other. There was this week where I could feel her tension but I didn’t know what was going on. Then she told me that her period was two weeks late.
I remember it so vividly and what I was thinking. I’m dating this girl but I’m not ready to marry her. I’m looking at her mom and my future life with this person and that’s terrifying. At 18 you’re beginning to understand the larger implications because in my high school there was a girl who had a kid. I’d heard stories of people my age getting married and then you’re in it forever.
Part of me thought this was a team decision and part of me didn’t. Her decision dictated my future and it was really uncomfortable to have that in someone else’s hands. But my mom always said if I got someone pregnant it was my responsibility, and with her that was huge. My dad left my mom when I was 2 and she was pregnant with my younger brother. She took responsibility for us. So when she said that to me, and that was before I was having sex, I got it and I remembered it. She was good about that—laying the groundwork before I was actually doing these things.”
Tom brings up incredibly important issues. First, even if teens don’t tell their parents or other adults in their lives what’s going on, those adults have tremendous influence. Whatever those adults have said to them about pregnancy in the past is immediately front and center in their mind. Time and time again, boys have told me that in these situations they want to be able to talk about their feelings but don’t feel that they have the right to.
Second, their past has a deep impact on the future they imagine. If their own fathers have not been around, they feel deeply conflicted or often fantasize about how they’re going to be a better father than they’ve had.
Third, and the biggest issue I’ve seen by far, is how they listen to and respect their partner’s emotional reactions to the pregnancy. It’s hard for them to courteously articulate what they want in light of what their partner also wants. It’s so hard because boys and young men are so rarely taught how to have these incredibly difficult conversations. Adults don’t often know how to.
One of the most important things we can do as parents of boys is to engage them in conversations around all these topics. Talk to them about their possible emotional reactions to getting a sexual partner pregnant. When we don’t include boys in the conversation, we contribute to young men not feeling they have a right to an opinion when they get a girl pregnant, and condoning boys believing it’s not their responsibility when they get someone pregnant. Having these conversations doesn’t condone irresponsible sexual behavior. It is a critical opportunity to articulate your values about personal responsibility, meaningful emotional connection and facing difficult, seemingly overwhelming situations with integrity and grace.
*Name has been changed.
Have you talked to your teenage son about pregnancy? What did you say? Post a comment and tell us here.
Categories: Momster, National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, Parenting Advice by Rosalind Wiseman, Parenting Teens & Tweens, The Sex Talk | Tags: National teen pregnancy prevention month, parenting advice, rosalind wiseman, Teen pregnancy
Written on May 8, 2014 at 12:59 pm , by Lynya Floyd
“She swears up and down they used a condom,” says Meghan,* 48, a mom of two from Missouri. But three years ago, Meghan’s 19-year-old daughter became part of the 11% of 18- and 19-year old girls who get pregnant each year.** What’s more, nearly three out of 10 girls in the U.S. get pregnant by age 20. During National Teen Pregnancy Prevent Month, Family Circle shares Megan’s story and offers expert advice every parent needs to know.
Three years ago, Meghan Davis’ life was in flux. “I was on my own,” she says. “I had just filed for divorce, left our big house and moved into a two-bedroom apartment with my youngest daughter, a high school junior.” It was Thanksgiving break and her 19-year-old daughter, Emily, was home from college and had swung by the apartment to check in. “She just sat down in the living room and didn’t say anything,” recalls Meghan, who had a weird feeling once her daughter arrived. “Then Emily just started bawling. She just cried and cried. And once she was done, she said, ‘I’m pregnant and I don’t know what to do.’”
A whopping two-thirds of teen pregnancies occur in 18- and 19-year olds, according to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. That’s older kids whose parents may be experiencing life changes themselves as their kids enter the workforce of head off to college. One of several factors that might put these older kids at greater risk is the fact that they’re entering a brand-new world.
“The most vulnerable time for kids on a college campus is first semester freshman year,” reveals Deborah Roffman, a sexuality educator and author of Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex. “They’re starting all over again. They’re wanting to fit in. They’re figuring out how to make decisions that will help them fit in—as opposed to how to make decisions in their own best interest.”
No matter how old your teenager is, you can still have a significant impact on the choices they make. “Even though you are losing a lot of direct power and control as they get older, what you gain is influence,” says Roffman. “Parents need to be involved in talking to their kids, no matter how old they are, about what their hopes and dreams are for themselves.”
Indeed, 39% of teens ages 13 to 17 say they have never thought about what their life would be like if they were to get pregnant or cause a pregnancy, according to new research from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Never. “It’s our job to reality-test them,” says Roffman. “Say, ‘If you make that choice, what will happen?’ Help them think critically about their choices by asking great questions.”
Conversation starters for older teens may not be intuitive, so we’ve created a list of them here, and Meghan adds to it. “If there’s one thing I could tell other mothers, I’d say get your daughter to think about herself,” she asserts. “Your daughter can’t just expect the man to be providing the protection; she has to take charge of her own life. I would’ve preferred that my daughter had taken care of birth control closer to the 100% effective mark herself.”
Getting as close to 100% protection as possible—if not through abstinence then by using two methods of birth control—not only protects against sexually transmitted diseases but can compensate for imperfect methods and imperfect users. “We do know a lot of young people are using contraception. They just might not be using it consistently or correctly,” explains Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “And if you’re not actively planning to prevent pregnancy, you’re essentially planning to get pregnant.”
After her daughter stopped crying, there were actually smiles. “My thinking was that there’s nothing to be done about it now. I’m not going to boo-hoo the whole nine months,” says Meghan. “Once Emily calmed down, I said, ‘Well, you’re pregnant. Are we going to be happy about it?’ And that made her laugh.” She admits that the timing was difficult and there have been some tough moments, but they came through them to better days without regret. “This is my first grandchild,” says Meghan of her now-2-year-old grandson. “Neither I nor my daughter would change a thing.”
* Names and identifying characteristics have been changed.
** Most recent data is for 2009.
Have you had a pregnancy scare with your older teen? Post a comment and tell us what happened.
Written on May 5, 2014 at 11:47 am , by Lynya Floyd
“Nothing shook our family like my teenage daughter’s pregnancy,” says Andrea*, 53, a Washington-based mom of three. And she’s not alone. Even though there have been tremendous declines in teen pregnancy, almost three in 10 girls get pregnant in the U.S. before age 20. As part of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, Family Circle will shine a light on sex stats that will surprise you, offer expert advice every parent must hear and share stories of the most vulnerable group of teens—they’re not who you think—starting with Andrea’s daughter.
One August morning, Andrea Richards, a mom of three, climbed out of bed and made her way downstairs to find a letter sitting on the table. It was from her daughter, Kate, and the message would send her frantically rushing back upstairs to wake her husband.
Kate was three months pregnant. She didn’t know how else to break the news to them. And she had packed up and left home in the middle of the night.
“I was devastated,” says Andrea, who was 45 at the time. “Kate was an honor student. All the hopes and dreams of her going to college were gone.” Those dreams were just weeks away from being realized: Kate was 18, working a part-time job in retail and slated to start community college in the fall.
STILL AT RISK
Two-thirds of all teen pregnancies occur in 18- and 19-year-olds, according to research done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (TNC). That’s right, older kids. “Many people find that surprising because they might be more accustomed to seeing images of girls in the media who are 14, 15 or 16 and pregnant,” says Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign. “But the average age for sex is 17 for boys and girls. So 18- and 19-year-olds are more likely to be sexually active. And nothing magical happens overnight when someone turns 18 that makes them less likely to get pregnant or better at using contraception.”
Before you start to wonder if the numbers are skewed toward teens who get hitched after graduation, let’s dispel that notion. The vast majority (86%) of all births to 18- and 19-year-olds were to unmarried women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So we’re talking about teens who have just nabbed their first job or already gotten an acceptance letter from college, or they may be making their way through freshman year. But in one pivotal moment, the blank slate of their future—and likely yours, mom, as well—now has something permanently written on it. For Kate, that pivotal moment was on prom night.
“I didn’t suspect this with her at all. We had everything in order,” says Andrea, who shares that her daughter was “in love with love” and dating a boy she and her husband didn’t approve of. They kept close tabs on her. “We drove Kate to prom. We knew where she was going to be. She even called me at midnight and asked if she could spend the night at a friend’s house. I said no. Curfew was 2 a.m.,” remembers Andrea. “So whatever decision Kate made between midnight and 2:15 a.m., when she walked in the door to our home, changed her life forever.”
FINDING THE WORDS
“I told Kate that I hoped she wouldn’t have sex with someone until she was old enough and ready. I was never going to take her to get contraception because it was never okay to have sex before you were married,” explains Andrea. She says she had plenty of “sex talks” with her daughter, who was raised with the family’s Catholic beliefs, and was devastated that she and her husband were the last to find out their daughter was pregnant. “Other kids knew. Other parents knew. No one said anything. Things would’ve been quite different if someone had told us. We would’ve sat down and talked to Kate. She didn’t have to leave the house. We wouldn’t have wanted her to do that.”
Not only does the “sex talk” need to be an ongoing conversation with your child, experts suggest that it also needs to be a broad conversation. “You’re trying to build sexual confidence,” explains John Chirban, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk with Your Kids About Sex. He points out that this isn’t about just having the strength to say no, but also accepting all the potential consequences of saying yes…and what can happen next.
“It’s role-playing, talking about incidents and teaching your child to direct and manage their sexuality. As a parent, it’s incredibly important to own your point of view and be true to what’s spiritually or religiously correct,” says Chirban, a father of three. “But just saying no doesn’t respond to what a teenager is feeling in the heat of the moment in a relationship.” At the same time, saying yes has consequences that extend way beyond those two teens.
Today Kate lives in another state and is engaged to be married—but not to the father of her now-8-year-old daughter. Andrea’s relationship with Kate is much improved and she absolutely adores her granddaughter. Still, everything that’s happened since she found that note hasn’t been easy. “This isn’t a club I would’ve wanted to join,” says Andrea. “But things are turning out okay today.” One message that she wants other moms to hear: “It’s a hard road, but believe me, you have enough love for your daughter and grandchild to pull through.”
*Names have been changed.
Has your child ever had a pregnancy scare? Post a comment and share what happened.
Written on November 12, 2013 at 9:00 am , by Family Circle
“We talk about sex tapes, affairs, baby bumps…anything and everything to do with our sex lives, except contraception,” says actress and Emmy Award-winning talk show host Ricki Lake. Today the mom of two boys (16 and 12) is asking you to give a shout-out to birth control by having an age-appropriate talk with your kids as part of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s “Thanks, birth control” movement. Here’s why.
Contraception. There. I said it. That wasn’t so bad, was it? As you probably know, my life has been an open book. There’s almost nothing I haven’t talked about on television. I’ve shared every personal milestone over the last two decades with my wonderful viewers, which has enriched my life in profound ways. That’s because I believe that talking helps you bond, open up, lose your fears. Think about it: Years ago, nobody would have dared to say “breast cancer” in public. Now look how many lives are being changed because we have collectively decided that talking about it openly can save lives and make people feel less alone.
So why doesn’t anyone talk about contraception? It’s something 99% of adult women in the U.S. have used. What else can you say that about? My friends at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy asked me to help them launch a national conversation about birth control and what it makes possible–for women, men, families and society. It’s not that there isn’t a lot of chatter out there already about contraception—there’s plenty. But all of it is so negative, so political and so polarizing. So regular people, or people who don’t have a stake in the political battles over contraception, just stay quiet. And when we don’t speak up, we are sending the message to young women in particular that contraception is a taboo subject.
Why is that so dangerous? Because 9 out of 10 single young adults ages 18-29 say they don’t want a pregnancy right now, but 40% of them aren’t using contraception consistently. Which is why single 20-somethings have twice the number of unplanned pregnancies as teens do, and 7 in 10 pregnancies in that age group are unplanned. Consequences for their babies are about the same as for babies born to teen moms. I’ve been working with the National Campaign for nearly two decades to help reduce teen pregnancy, and I’m proud to say that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is down more than 44% over the past 21 years. One reason for this decline is that we are all talking openly about the importance of preventing teen pregnancy, and teens have gotten the message. Unplanned pregnancy among single young adults hasn’t budged. The fact is that 9 out of 10 women and men ages 18-29 are sexually active, and a shocking 40% of them think that even if you’re using contraception, when it’s “your time” to get pregnant, you probably will. This is exactly why talking openly about contraception—and how to use it correctly—can change lives. If you can’t talk about birth control, how do you know if you’re using it right? Or if there might be a better method out there for you?
We talk about sex tapes, affairs, baby bumps…anything and everything to do with our sex lives, except contraception. The UN declares access to birth control to be a “universal human right.” The CDC calls the advent of modern contraception one of the 10 greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. When women have a say in planning and spacing their pregnancies, everyone benefits. I am grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve had to be a mom and to have a career, all at the same time. That’s because I got to decide when I was ready to start a family—a tremendous freedom that I don’t take for granted. So that’s why I’m asking you to join me and thousands of others to take a moment today to give a shout-out for birth control and all that it makes possible. Share a fact. Dispel a myth. Share one of these cool postcards or videos from the National Campaign. Putting off that talk with your daughter (or son!) about contraception. Today’s the day to have it. Speak up and talk about what birth control makes possible for you, your career, your family. Just saying the words out loud will help make the topic less toxic. Take to social media, use #ThxBirthControl and tell me why you’re saying “Thanks, birth control” with me today. I’m listening!
Ricki Lake is a media advisor to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Written on October 22, 2013 at 11:36 am , by Family Circle
Written by Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood.
How many times have you heard someone say, “She’s such a flirt” or “He’s going to be a real ladies’ man” about a baby? Or tease a young child by saying, “Is he your boyfriend?” Apart from being age-inappropriate, comments like these give children ideas about dating and sexuality from a very young age. So it’s no surprise that by the time they reach their teens, young people have a lot of messages to sort out about romantic relationships.
We have to be careful not to push teens into dating, especially younger teens who are still in middle school. Studies show that the earlier teens start dating and having relationships, the sooner sexual activity takes place. Younger teens really should be completely focused on school, activities and family. As they get older and relationships become developmentally appropriate, it remains important that we stay close to our teens and provide guidance while allowing them to develop some independence.
As parents, we all want our teens to have good early relationships, so we should discuss what constitutes a healthy relationship before they begin dating. We can help them to expect good communication, respect, trust, fairness, honesty and equality. It’s also important to teach them not to be aggressive or push anyone into doing anything before they’re ready—if someone feels uncomfortable or resistant, just stop.
Once your teen does start dating, talk with him or her regularly about what’s going on. Listen and give your teen a chance to discuss his/her experiences, then give helpful advice. Parents should definitely get to know their son or daughter’s boyfriend/girlfriend, and the boyfriend or girlfriend’s parents too. Dating anyone more than two years older is risky—there are so many developmental differences that it’s almost impossible to have a healthy relationship with that large an age gap. And be sure to set ground rules: no friends over when adults aren’t home, check in when they go out to let you know where they’ll be and who they’re with, etc. You can find some tips for effectively monitoring and supervising your teen in this video.
Be very clear about your expectations and values when it comes to dating and sex. Planned Parenthood created this helpful tool for parents to start having these conversations. In fact, teens name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sex, so we can help them understand why it’s important to wait to have sex until they’re ready. We have to be willing to talk and listen, and ask direct questions like, “What’s going on physically with you two?” Hopefully our teens will tell us when they are considering sexual activity.
We need to be as loving as possible when we learn that our teens are having sex. You may initially be disappointed or upset, but try to contain your anxiety and deal with your own feelings separately from your interactions with your son or daughter. The most important thing for parents to do is to listen. Stay calm and try to keep the lines of communication open, so your teen knows he or she can continue to come to you. If you do get upset or say something you later regret, you can always go back and say, “Listen, I was feeling startled that I just heard you and your boyfriend/girlfriend are having sex. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. I just want you to be healthy and safe.” Conversations about sexuality and relationships are an ongoing dialogue. Once we know our teens are sexually active, parents can make a difference. We can help our teens think about their relationships and encourage them to always use birth control and practice safer sex.
Through frequent conversations with your teen, you can help to launch his or her love life well (and maybe put some of your own fears to rest too). You may find that these are some of the most meaningful and rewarding conversations you ever have.
For more information about talking with your teen, visit plannedparenthood.org/parents.
Written on May 1, 2013 at 2:47 pm , by Family Circle
On this National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, guest blogger Michelle Edelman shares the surprisingly early sex talk she had to have with her 3rd-grader and where other moms can get help finding the right words to say.
I remember learning about sex from a Judy Blume novel that was covertly passed around my class in the corner of the public library. Later that year, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Briggin sat us all in a circle and gave us a very matter-of-fact, anatomical explanation of sex. One of my classmates was so overcome with emotion during the discussion that she stabbed my leg with her #2 pencil. I then became secretly worried that I would die of lead poisoning and missed a good bit of what Mrs. Briggin said after that point!
Chances are you first learned about sex in some shrouded, fragmented way too. You probably also found yourself unprepared for the inevitable social situations at the intersection of Hormone Street and Sheer Panic Avenue. It’s likely the little threads of facts about “what goes where” left you woefully inadequate when it came to the real issues: Are you ready for this emotionally and physically? Are you prepared to take care of yourself? Do you even know this person? What do you expect to get out of this experience?
Now is a scary time to be raising tweens and teens. I have two daughters, ages 11 and 15. The pressure to be sexualized at a young age is everywhere. It has always been present in music and pop culture influences. But now with mobile phones and other digital devices, these influences are constant. Forbes Magazine reported that the average age a kid first sees a porn image is 11. “Sex” and “porn” are the #4 and #6 most popular searches on Google performed by kids. But they’ll see all sorts of images anyway, as they are preparing book reports or looking for Club Penguin because the images are so prevalent across the Internet.
When my youngest was 9, she asked me to buy her a book from the American Girl Company called The Care and Keeping of You. I heard “American Girl” and blindly ordered this book on Amazon. This is a company I respect. They taught our kids bits of history through the eyes of fictional girls with integrity and great values. So I didn’t think twice. Until our daughter announced that she thought her “hormonies” were not working. It was then I found out that she was reading a full-on manual about teen bodies, complete with drawings!
This was only a surprise because I had not prepared myself for my then-3rd grader to be so ready to have frank talks about her body and sex. But I’ve come to realize that healthy sexuality—especially the decision-making around intimacy—starts with healthy conversations at our homes. It will never be comfortable for people who are parents right now to relate to the world of our “digital native” kids. Fortunately there are tools out there that will help us facilitate conversation. It’s National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the folks at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy have decided to bail us parents out. Check out this quiz for your teen.
These questions get to the heart of the matter for kids. No matter how much “fact” our children accumulate, nothing can take the place of open conversation about what might happen when those facts are put to the test by peer pressure and the random chaos that is created by kids and technology.
You might not be in control of what and when your kids learn about the facts of the sexual experience, but you can provide an open environment where it’s OK to share and talk about the pressures of being a teen. And those discussions can make all the difference.
How did you first learn about sex? And what have you passed on to your kids? Post a comment below and tell us!
Michelle Edelman is the CEO and Director of Strategy of NYCA, a San Diego-based advertising agency.
Written on April 10, 2013 at 4:54 pm , by Celia Shatzman
In the time since I wrote the “Reality Check” essay for the May issue, my candid answers to any questions the kids pose has made an impression on them. Now anytime one of them inadvertently asks a question that has me using s-e-x in the answer, they hold up their hands and say, “No, that’s okay! I’m good!” That’s in public. In private, they still come to me and ask me the Big Deals. They know I’ll tell them the truth.
Trying to figure out your true role as a stepmom is tough. My role feels ever-changing, and isn’t the same for each kid. A stepmom I admire once told me that she always strives to be the kids’ advocate, not their disciplinarian. As a custodial stepmom, that isn’t always possible for me, but it’s a really good guideline. The best things happen when I have that spirit behind my interactions with the kids.
Meanwhile, I now have a standing Friday morning date with my husband to grocery shop – at a different supermarket.
- JM Randolph
Read more by JM Randolph on her blog, accidentalstepmom.com.
Written on October 26, 2012 at 4:08 pm , by familycircle
When it comes to talking with my kids about sex, I’ve always thought that not talking about it would be like not talking about your hand: it’s a part of your body, so you need to know how to take care of it.
It’s why I started talking with my kids about sex and sexuality when they were young—putting it into context and letting them know how it relates to real life. In fact, my kids didn’t think it was weird to hear their parents talk about sex until they learned that their friends thought it was weird that our family talked about it.
We know our kids are going to hear about sex—it’s impossible for them not to since it’s in nearly every song they hear, TV show they watch, book they read, or website they surf—and I was determined that I was going to be their main source of information, particularly when they became teenagers. As a mother, part of my job is to make sure my kids have the guidance they need to decide when they’re ready for a sexual relationship and the information they need to prevent STDs and to prevent pregnancy until they are ready to become parents. We can’t leave our kids unprepared.
But if I’m truthful, every conversation with my teens hasn’t flowed like honey. Some of them have been challenging ones to have. I realized a long time ago, however, that parenting is an art of practice: you get better at it and more comfortable with it the more you do it. That’s definitely been true for me when it comes to talking with my kids about sex. Teens, especially, aren’t always brave enough to ask questions even when they want and need answers. That’s why as parents it’s important that we don’t wait for them to start asking questions, but that we take opportunities to start and continue talking with them about sex and relationships even if it seems like they’re uncomfortable or hesitant.
A few months ago, I was taking my son off for his first year of college, and I realized that talking about sex really has become a natural part of the conversations we have as family. We were driving and listening to pounding rap music that was full of sex. I used it as an opportunity to remind him of all of the conversations we’ve had over the past few years. I gave him the same information I always do—think of women as equals. They are just as strong and smart. They have their responsibilities, but so do you when it comes to sex. I told him to always have his own condoms so that he knows that they’re safe to use. I brought this up as a reminder along with other reminders that I’ve given him over the years: remember to stay hydrated because it’s hot in the desert, eat something green every day, and use your own condoms!
As parents, we have to be willing to be bold and to remember that our kids’ abilities to be healthy and make good decisions about relationships outweigh any discomfort we may feel when talking with them about sex. As moms, it might help to remember that we’re the ones who taught them how to wipe their bottoms and brush their teeth, and we’ve picked stuff out their noses. These frank chats about sex are just an extension of that commitment.
Note: Check out Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month flipbook to see what actors Alfre Woodard, Cynthia Nixon and Elizabeth Banks, as well as non-celebrity moms and teens, have to say about talking about sex.
Read more about having “the sex talk” with your teen here.
Alfre Woodard’s work as an actor has earned her an Oscar nomination, four Emmy Awards with 17 Emmy nominations, three SAG Awards and a Golden Globe. Woodard’s illustrious body of work includes Cross Creek, HBO’s Mandela, Grand Canyon, Passion Fish and more.
Written on October 15, 2012 at 1:05 pm , by familycircle
Amy Cody is the Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which offers Let’s Be Honest workshops to help prepare parents to talk about sex with their kids.
Planned Parenthood and Family Circle magazine recently conducted a survey to see how parents and teens are doing when it comes to talking about sex. As it turns out, parents are a lot more comfortable having these conversations than their teens. However, parents aren’t always tackling the tougher topics. I get it, some questions about sex may seem harder to tackle than others. Kids are notorious for asking questions that make parents squirm.
As a parent educator for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and a parent myself, I’ve heard just about every question you could think of. And in every Let’s Be Honest parent education workshop I host, after beginning to share possible answers and strategies, shoulders relax and parents feel more empowered to give it a try.
I want to share five questions that parents from my workshops have asked again and again, and tips for how you can address them with your own kids. You may not be able to anticipate every question your child will have, but there are four themes you can keep in mind during these ongoing conversations:
- Fulfill your right and responsibility as a parent to be your child’s primary sexuality educator.
- Share your attitudes, beliefs, and values around sex and sexuality.
- Respect your child’s feelings and promote positive self-esteem in your child.
- Provide accurate facts and knowledge.
Check out this website for more information about the four themes and try to keep them in mind as you answer questions that come up with your child.
Viewing questions about sex and sexuality as a natural and normal situation can help us keep our sense of perspective. Answering questions matter-of-factly, calmly, and honestly is the best policy.
Try some of these answers on for size and see if they make sense for you and your family.
My four-year-old is asking “Where do babies come from?” What should I do?
A question like this calls for active listening and asking gentle questions to find out why your child is curious about the topic and what she or he really wants to know. Answering “babies come from their moms” might be all they need to know. Let your child’s questions be your guide.
Try this: “That’s a great question! A tiny seed from a man called a sperm and a tiny egg from a woman join together inside the uterus, a special place inside the woman. When the baby is ready to be born, it comes out through the opening between the woman’s legs called the vagina.”
What should I do if my child goes to school and shares information from our family discussions about sexuality with other kids who have not yet had this conversation?
Kids frequently compare information with each other about sex, whether parents want them to or not. When you start having these discussions with your child, tell her/him that you are sharing this information because this is something that families talk about with each other. Remind your child that friends will talk about it with their own families.
Try this: “I think it’s great that you are interested in learning more about bodies and how they work. You can always ask me any questions. And, each family has their own idea of when to talk about these things, so let your friends talk to their parents.”
What do I say if my middle school child asks me, “Why do people enjoy sex?”
Kids of all ages are curious about the world around them, their bodies and how they work, and how they relate to others. This is a great opportunity to talk with them about relationships and healthy decision-making.
Try this: “Just like there are many different ways to define sex, there are many different reasons why people enjoy sex. People usually enjoy sex when both people have agreed to it, and when both people are emotionally and physically ready to be intimate (close and loving) with one another. It’s not like on TV. In real life, the emotional part is just as, if not more, important than the physical part. And, just like with other mammals, the human body is designed to enjoy sexual behaviors.”
How do I handle personal questions such as, “Mom, when did you start having sex?”
Our kids are often interested in this information to serve as a barometer of their own readiness. However, everyone has to make their own decision about when the time is right. Rather than concentrating on any specific timeline in conversations, instead discuss the importance of emotional, physical, and spiritual readiness, including respect, comfort, vulnerability, intimacy, and trust.
Try this: “I understand that you’re curious about my life experience. The age of when I had sex for the first time isn’t as important as what I was feeling or thinking about it. Although you will decide for you when the best time is, I want you to know that I hope you wait until you are older and in a mature, responsible relationship. When do you think someone knows if they are ready to have sex?”
My child is very shy when sex comes up. How should I approach this or initiate a conversation?
Many kids are shy or embarrassed about this topic and many parents are as well! I recommend that parents be proactive. Don’t wait for questions that may not come up. Parents can use television shows, music lyrics, movies, news stories, or magazine ads as ways of opening the door to ongoing conversations. Sometimes texting, e-mailing, or writing a note might be the best way to start.
Try this: “I know it’s hard to talk about this, but I love you and feel that it’s important that we can have these conversations. I am always here for you if you want to talk.”
As parents, we want to help our kids navigate the mixed messages and contradictions they encounter in our sex-saturated culture. Recent studies show that young people who have frequent and open conversations with their parents about sex and sexuality are more likely to make healthier, safer, and better-informed decisions related to sex.
It’s time to start talking! Let’s make sure that when kids have questions, they can turn to us for our values and age-appropriate, honest, and factual information.
Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.
Amy Cody is the Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which offers Let’s Be Honest and Seamos Honestos workshops in the community to help prepare parents and other trusted caregivers create an environment of trust and comfort in talking with their children about sex and sexuality. Learn more about Let’s Be Honest: Communication in families that keeps kids healthy.
Written on October 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm , by familycircle
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex.
Most parents treat the topic of sex as if it were nitroglycerin: acting like one wrong move means everything will explode! So it’s no surprise that they absolutely dread having those conversations with their kid. In the “Sex Talk” survey Family Circle and Planned Parenthood conducted and reported on this November, they found that more than 70% of parents wait until their child is 11 or older to talk about any topics related to sexuality. And even when they do chat with their kids, it’s not very frequent. In a survey of over 45,000 parents and children of divorce that I’m conducting on Dr. Phil’s website, parents frequently reported that they spoke with their kids about sex; however, most kids disclosed that they don’t recall any such conversations.
Why the anxiety? Parents reveal that their reluctance to talk about sex with their kids stem from embarrassment about their own experiences that tap into their own associations and baggage with sex. They also worry that they will convey wrong information or that merely raising the topic will encourage their child to engage in sexual acts. Parents need to distinguish between their concerns about sex and the needs of their child at the various stages of the child’s growth.
Studies show that parents who discuss sex in a loving and honest way actually decrease the likelihood that their child will engage in sexual activity. In fact, kids who share a good relationship with their parents and can honestly discuss their concerns about sex, dating, and love are less influenced by peer behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and sex and report less depression and anxiety and more self-reliance and self-esteem. These kids are also more successful in school and develop more meaningful relationships. Such studies confirm that the quality and importance of our communications at home strongly influences our children’s life.
Remember: You don’t have to pretend that you know it all. If you’re natural about any uncertainty yet show that you are willing to learn as you go along, you set the stage for an honest relationship with your child. Providing accurate information and details is important, however, it’s more critical to express interest, support, and openness and respond to your child’s needs.
Parents need to demystify sex and guide their kids to manage the physical aspects of sexuality and support their children’s emotional, social, relational and spiritual sexual growth. We need to help our kids make the connections between intimacy and love and understand healthy relationships. If we don’t take effective action to communicate with our kids, they can’t be expected to make effective decisions—and they will go elsewhere to find answers.
Parents go to extraordinary lengths to nurture, strengthen and support their kids—academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. It’s not okay to leave your child to fend for himself regarding his or her sexual development. Parents need to reclaim their role as their child’s guide concerning sex. By communicating with our kids, in an age appropriate manner, from infancy through adolescence about sex, we will come through for them on concerns when our children need us most.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex, which clarifies what kids need at each stage of development and how parents can effectively communicate. For more information, go to drchirban.com and sexualproblems.com.
Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.
Written on October 11, 2012 at 2:58 pm , by Rosalind Wiseman
Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman offers advice on having “the sex talk” with kids for Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month.
Pornography: It’s the reason kids are uncomfortable talking to their parents about sex.
That’s what immediately came to mind when I read the Planned Parenthood and Family Circle survey finding that while half of all parents are comfortable having the sex talk with their kids, only 18% of teens said they feel very comfortable having the sex talk with their parents.
I thought this because I regularly talk to tweens and teens. I know how common it is for them to have questions about sex, so they type “kissing” into YouTube and a few seconds later they’ve clicked onto a porn site. I know that boys regularly show each other favorite porn sites—like their dads did with Playboys and Penthouses a generation ago.
According to Family Safe Media, the average age at which children are first exposed to pornography is 11—earlier than most parents think they need to talk to their kids about sexual decision making. Ninety percent of kids between 8 and 16 have seen pornography, usually while doing their homework.
Before you think, “Where are the parents?” or “Why don’t those parents have filtering devices on their computers?” realize that both questions are irrelevant. Kids have regular access to devices that allow them to research and share topics they’re curious about. And sex has always been and always will be a topic kids are curious about.
If you’re a parent and don’t know any of this, you’re going to approach the sex conversation from an entirely different context than your child. Imagine: You get over your discomfort and sit down with your child to impart your deeply held values about healthy sexual decisions—without keeping in mind that there’s a good possibility they’ve seen graphic, up-close sexual intercourse and oral sex.
Of course kids don’t want to tell us they’ve seen these images. What are they supposed to say? If they admit what they’ve seen, you’re probably going to respond by asking in a very intense, accusatory tone, “Who showed you those? Where were you? What exactly did you see?” They don’t want to have that conversation with you. Plus, they think if they tell you, you’ll react by taking away their phones or computers.
You can have all the filters on your computer you want, block the TV and take away their phones—it won’t matter. You can’t take away every portal to the Internet in your child’s life.
This is what I say: ”I know that if you want to see those pictures, you’re going to figure out how to do it. I could take away every computer in the house and every phone and it wouldn’t make a difference. Here’s why I don’t want you to watch porn. It brings you into a really complicated world where you’re being exposed to really messed-up images and messages about how men and women interact sexually. It’s also all fake. It’s a performance where women are supposed to look a certain way and always like whatever the guy wants to do and the guy never cares about the woman he’s with. I think you deserve to have more accurate information than what you’d see there. But you do have the right to have information about sex in a way that’s accurate and appropriate for you. If you have questions about sex, I want you to ask me or another adult who we both think is a good person to answer your questions.”
As a mom, it upsets me that I have to raise my children in a world where pornography is readily accessible to them. As a teacher, it upsets me that porn is giving our girls and boys unrealistic and often very unhealthy messages about sexuality that will influence them to some degree. But as upsetting as it is, we have to face what our world is like and respond in an informed way. If we don’t, we can’t be relevant in our children’s lives when they need our guidance the most.
Read more about having “the sex talk” with your teen here.
Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.