How to Have a Sex Talk That Will Prevent Teenage Pregnancies
Preventing teen pregnancy requires an ongoing series of short conversations, with plenty of listening on both sides.
1. Stay close.
Teens who feel connected to their parents delay sexual intercourse longer than those who don't. "Once or twice a week do something just for fun with your teen," says Hatim Omar, MD, chief of the Young Parent Program at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "When you make yourself available in a relaxed way, he or she will be more likely to come to you about important things."
2. Be prepared.
Decide now with your spouse what messages you want to convey, such as, "Our religion requires abstinence until marriage and we think that's best" or "We want you to finish your education before you have children" or "A loving relationship is based on caring and respect and doesn't have to involve sex." If you've thought your ideas through, you'll be less uncomfortable—and your child will remember what you said, not just how you said it.
3. Give complete facts.
To obtain information about contraception, visit the websites of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (acog.org) and Planned Parenthood (plannedparenthood.org). Spark values talks by discussing what you watch together on TV. The National Campaign has partnered with MTV to create discussion guides to 16 and Pregnant. Go to thenc.org/fc.
4. Stay vigilant.
Boyfriends and girlfriends should be allowed only in shared areas of the house, not the bedroom. From time to time, a parent should pop in unexpectedly, maybe with snacks. If there's an upcoming party, call and ask exactly how it will be monitored. Will parents be around? Are they planning to be present but off in another part of the house, or will they be checking in occasionally? If the answers don't satisfy you, no party.
5. Push healthy passions.
When tweens and teens develop talents and abilities through group memberships—clubs, sports, theater—they are more likely to have clear goals, which in turn makes them more likely to think their choices through. "Kids who feel they have a promising future are the most deliberate in preventing pregnancy," says Troccoli. "Hope is a great contraceptive."
6. Instill healthy guilt.
Knowing that you disapprove could be what keeps your teen from making a bad decision. "Kids internalize your values," says Ron Zodkevitch, MD, a child psychiatrist in Beverly Hills. "Their own guilt is a stop sign. Make your feelings clear. For example, if you're watching a show featuring a pregnant teen, say, 'If that happens to you, I'll be extremely disappointed.'" Just avoid coming down so hard that your child is afraid to reach out to you when she needs help.
7. Make babies real.
Give your sons and daughters opportunities to babysit, or enroll them in high school classes in which students care for a computerized life-size baby doll programmed to cry, feed, and need diaper changes on a real infant's schedule. Studies show these lessons increase teens' awareness of how demanding and relentless parenting responsibilities are, and make them want to delay the experience. About half of high schools in the U.S. have these dolls. If yours isn't one of them, ask your administration to consider bringing in a program. Go to realityworks.com for more information.
8. Offer scripts.
Teens equipped with exact words and phrases are better able to say "No" in the heat of the moment. A girl who is told, "Sex will make us closer," can respond, "Not if I'm worried about getting pregnant. The pressure will drive us apart." A boy urged by friends, "Get laid and be a man," can say, "I am a man. I don't need a pregnancy or a sexual disease to interfere with my dreams and goals." A boy whose girlfriend says, "Don't you like me?" can reply, "Yes, but I respect you too. You're beautiful and I want to get to know you better."
9. Don't stop talking.
Pregnancy may be hardest for everyone when it occurs in younger adolescents, but it is more common among older teens. So keep the conversation going even after your kids graduate from high school.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.