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How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen

Teaching Teens the "How," Not Just the "What"
The Sex Talk 2
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Illustration by Joel Holland

An overwhelming number of teens said their parents' sexual expectations for them are clear: "Don't do it" or "Wait until you're married." But one message that may be missing is how to comply with those wishes. While 42% of parents say they've talked to their teens "many times" about how to say no to sex, only 27% of teens agree. In fact, 34% of teens say they've "never" or "only once" had a chat with mom or dad about how to delay sex.

Sext Interrupted

A study showed one in three teens have sent nude photos of themselves via e-mail or text (what's known as "sexting"). Even more disturbing: Our survey found 41% of kids had "never" or "only once" discussed with their parents the risks of doing so. "We've put powerful technology into the hands of kids still learning to navigate the social world. They need guidance," says Dr. Schuster. Here's what you both must know.

There are no take-backs. Today's YouTubing, Facebooking teens embrace a worldwide audience, yet many still consider sexting with a boyfriend or girlfriend private. "Teens should consider how they'll feel when—not if—others see their photos," says Deborah Roffman, author of Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids' "Go-To" Person about Sex. Remind her: Photos last long after a relationship ends, and she'll have no control over who sees them. If your child receives a sext, she should delete it (never share it) and tell the sender to stop.

It may be illegal. "Sexted images violate child pornography laws in some states," says David Finkelhor, Ph.D., director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center in Durham. Juvenile arrests are rare, but teens on both the sending and receiving end may be charged as sex offenders. At the very least, they may be kicked out of clubs or sports, or expelled from school.

I can—and will—check your phone. Discuss acceptable and unacceptable cell use, and reserve the right to spot-check their phones. "It's not a matter of trust or privacy," says Dr. Schuster. "It's about being a responsible parent and keeping kids safe."