By: Elizabeth Donovan, M.A.
Yes, I am asking the question that most parents would like to avoid discussing with their daughters. Sex is something that both scares and intrigues teens and can create anxiety and tension between parent and teen. But the anxiety talking about sex provokes within parents and teens is not only normal, but expected. I have worked with many teenage girls over the years – enough to know that avoiding talking to your daughter about this taboo topic often makes matters worse. On the flip side – talking to your teenage daughter about sex openly and honestly can make things a whole lot better.
The Myth Dispelled:
Most parents who avoid talking with their teens about sex do so because they are afraid that if they discuss the topic, it will make their teen more likely to act out sexually and engage in risky sexual behavior. Yet, research has consistently shown that parents who talk about sex with their children actually have the opposite effect. Parents who talk about sex with their teenage daughters find that their teens are more likely to postpone sex and to use birth control when they choose to begin. Even armed with the statistics, for many parents the problem remains “how” to talk to your teen about sex in a way that is respectful, clear, and promotes personal responsibility.
The most important step before you talk with your teen about sex is to understand her maturity level (there is a large difference between talking with a 13 year old and a 16 year old) and approach the topic as seen through her eyes. As parents, it’s easy to fall into a pattern of lecturing and power struggles with teenagers, but the topic of sex is one area that parents need to find common ground with their teenage daughters to communicate openly and appropriately. After all, studies show that by the age of 20, nearly 3/4 of teenagers have had sexual intercourse (Center for Disease Control). Parents who are willing to risk exposing their own discomfort and anxieties when talking about sex with their teens can cut their daughter’s chances in half.
Tips for Taking with Your Teen:
1. Use humor. Humor is the perfect defense mechanism for parents who have difficulty talking about sex. If you find it difficult, admit it and keep your sense of humor. Teenagers usually respond well to humor and it takes the pressure off both of you.
2. Know your “sexual facts.” Pull out your cheat sheet if you need to, but be prepared to talk about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s), and peer pressure. Your teenage daughter needs this information to help her make important – and accurate -decisions.
3. Keep current. Your teenage daughter is not going to be able to relate to intellectualized “examples” of AIDS or teen pregnancy. Nor will she remember examples from your generation. Instead, try to keep current by talking about recent movies TV shows and articles that will help break the ice and let her know that you are interested in what she’s watching. There’s nothing worse to a teenage girl then having her mom or dad try to talk to her about sex in “old fashion” terms.
4. Share your feelings and values regarding sex. Many parents are afraid to express exactly how they feel about sex because they do not want to sound like a mean school teacher threatening to send their daughter to the principals office. Research shows that if parents are honest and say exactly how they feel (ex. if you believe in no sex until marriage – say so) about controversial topics, their teens are more likely to listen. Yes, she may roll her eyes at you, but inside she’s secretly filing information away for when the time comes for her to decide if she will have sex. This does not mean that your teen will not have sex, but it does mean that she will think twice and hopefully make a responsible decision.
5. Don’t read her mind. There are occasionally rare moments when your teenage daughter will suddenly ask you “out of the blue” a question about sex. It’s easy for many of us to suddenly think that our daughter is having sex because she’s asking about it. It’s important that parents don’t fall into the trap of assuming that if your daughter asks questions, she is thinking about or having sex. Your daughter may simply be searching for answers because she’s curious or heard something from one of her friends. Instead, take the fact that she’s asking your questions as a very good sign. She values your opinion and would rather hear the truth from you than from her friends or peer group.
6. Talk about abstinence and peer pressure. the more open and honest with your teenage daughter you are, the better off she’ll be. Share your thoughts on abstinence with your daughter and reasons to wait to have sex. Let your teen know that she can always choose to abstain whether or not she’s had sex before. it’s also important to reassure your daughter that “not everyone is having sex.” It’s ok to be a virgin and the decision to have sex is too important to base souley on what her peers say or do.
7. Discuss how to handle peer pressure. Talk openly with your daughter about ways to deal with peer pressure. But be prepared to hear things you may not be ready for. Your daughter will need to know that you will not punish her for being honest.
8. Keep the lines of communication open. Continue to talk about sex with your daughter – once is not enough. Let your daughter know that she can always talk to you about any question or concern about sex. Not only will this attitude develop trust between parent and daughter, but it helps to promote a strong and healthy relationship with her.
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