Written on February 17, 2015 at 12:02 pm , by Family Circle
Leora Tanenbaum, author of the newly released I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet, sheds light on some dark and dangerous behavior. By APRIL MCFADDEN
While boys are often encouraged to explore their sexuality, girls must usually toe the tricky line between being alluring but not lewd. These days that sexual double standard is more difficult than ever to navigate. In this Q&A with Family Circle, author Leora Tanenbaum, who coined the term “slut-bashing” back in the 90s, helps us understand the struggles girls encounter today and explains how every parent can more responsibly raise a kid in the Internet age.
You break down the difference between slut-bashing and slut-shaming in your book. Why is it important for parents to know the difference?
Because the effects of each get played out differently. Slut-shaming isn’t necessarily repeated—it could be a one-time thing and the intent may not even be negative. I haven’t met any female in the United States under the age of 25 who has not been called a “slut” or a “ho” in some context, usually more than once. But slut-bashing is a very specific form of harassment that takes place over time and the intent is to hurt. Slut-bashing makes life horrible for a girl. What they have in common is that regardless of the intent, at the end of the day female sexuality is being policed and the sexual double standard is being reinforced and hammered in. We need to pay attention to both experiences.
How can parents allow their daughters to experiment with femininity without letting them fall into harmful categories?
You don’t ever want to tell her or make her feel that she is a slut. You want her to feel good about her body, her sexuality and her clothing choices. If you strongly believe that her clothing is inappropriate for her age or for the occasion, you need to talk with her about it. Say something supportive that gives her space like, “Wow! You look fantastic in that outfit, but there are so many people out there that aren’t as enlightened as we are about girls revealing their bodies. And unfortunately there are people who may treat you like a sexual object if you wear that outfit.”
What critical lessons should parents teach their sons about this?
Talk about consent with your children, boys and girls, and explain that consent is never present unless it has been verbally communicated. I think that’s really essential. It’s probably the most important thing many parents aren’t doing that we should be doing that better. It’s never ever too soon to talk about sexual consent.
What is your opinion about the recent campus sexual assault movement, including It’s On Us, Know Your IX and Carry That Weight?
I feel invigorated by the movement. It ties into this culture of slut-shaming where so many people—including women—believe that it’s acceptable to have sex with a girl even if she hasn’t actually said yes. They think, “Well, because she’s a ‘slut’ or a ‘ho’ it doesn’t matter what she says.” And this is certainly true in high schools too.
What can parents learn from stories like Jada’s from the #IAmJada campaign?
I do find those individual examples of girls talking back and raising awareness really great, but they’re kids and that should not be their responsibility. That should be our responsibility. We need to be the ones orchestrating that and helping the young people in our lives.
What is the most shocking thing you discovered while writing I Am Not a Slut?
How people hate the “slut” so much—even if she’s somebody they don’t know—that they will tell her she should kill herself or that she shouldn’t be alive.
What is one thing you would ask parents to change when it comes to slut-shaming?
Never, ever use words like “slut” or “ho,” even in a lighthearted or joking way. Just never use them, because our kids look to us as role models and if we make it acceptable then it becomes acceptable to them.
Leora Tanenbaum is the author of the newly released I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet. She is also senior writer and editor at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a mom of two boys.
Written on November 25, 2014 at 10:00 am , by Janet Taylor
Celebrity provocateur Kim Kardashian hoped to create an earth-shattering event when she posed for naked pictures in an attempt to #BreakTheInternet. (Warning: That hot link goes to her Paper Magazine spread, which includes nude photographs.) Her ample derriere was widely posted throughout cyberspace. Reactions seemed to range from disinterest to disbelief and astonishment.
Many people voiced concern about her seeming lack of seriousness related to her role as a mom and the potential long-lasting effects of images like this on her daughter. “Why would a mother want to pose like that?” some asked.
Yes, she is a mother. She is also being mothered by a woman who is her manager and obviously supportive of her recent photo spread.
For me, the underlying issue is not about her being open to displaying herself as a sexual being. She has the right to pose in any way that she chooses. There has not been any suggestion that she is abusive or negligent to her adorable daughter. The exhaustion of motherhood, with its additional responsibilities and time demands, can impact intimacy and sexual desire. Those are two situations that require process and communication—not a photo shoot.
The real issue is the way the media drives our consumption of knowledge around individuals who seemingly do not inject any sense of purpose or additional meaning into our lives. Enough. How great would it be if we could #BreakTheInternet with examples of kindness, generosity and overall goodness?
The positive news: According to the Wall Street Journal, the Rosetta spacecraft’s landing on a comet had more tweets then a champagne glass landing on Kim Kardashian’s rear. Score one for the comet and zero for Kim Kardashian. And that is really big, big, big news.
What do you think about Kim Kardashian’s attempt to break the Internet? Post a comment below and let us know.
Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at email@example.com.
Written on September 12, 2014 at 5:00 am , by Janet Taylor
We’re used to hearing celebrities bare all in interviews and watching them bare all on movie screens. But this month, when news broke of hackers using the iCloud to leak nude photos of stars like Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton, many were shocked. How did the hackers pull it off? What other information could be hacked into? Who’s at risk? Aside from the obvious concerns about such a privacy breach, however, another issue loomed. Why take a naked photo?
Maybe it’s because I don’t even like to pose for, much less share, a photo of myself in a bathing suit sans cover-up. So I can’t help but wonder why folks want naked selfies.
One group worth approaching to answer that question: teenagers. Most teens sext to maintain or ignite a relationship, or are pressured into the behavior. A recent study indicated that more than 50% of college students sent sexually explicit texts—with or without photos—as minors. (About a quarter admitted to sending sexually explicit photographs.) These numbers would indicate that among young people sexting is increasing in prevalence. In fact, it has tripled or quadrupled in some ages and categories of teens over the past five years. Boys and girls sext at the same rate, but boys forward more.
As moms and dads, we need to shift our focus to parenting in the digital age. We need to talk to our children and teens about sending pictures, receiving pictures and passing them on. We need to tell them that not everyone is doing it and cyberspace does not have a button for forgiveness. Images that are deleted can be retrieved, and pictures that are sent can be passed along.
The message to our children and teens should be clear and consistent. Do not ever post or send a naked or half-naked selfie to anyone. Ever. They should delete images that are sent to them and not forward them. I want to remind young people that there are many ways to feel good about yourself: practice kindness to others, volunteer in schools and communities, simply contribute to the common good. But keep your naked selfie covered.
Have you talked to your child about sexting? Do you think your son or daughter would ever do it? Post a comment and tell me.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Categories: Family & Technology, Momster, On My Mind, Parenting Teens & Tweens, The Sex Talk | Tags: celebrity photos hacked, dr. janet, internet, Janet Taylor, Jennifer Lawrence nude photos, naked selfies and teens, photos, Selfie, sexting, social media, teens sexting
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.