Parenting is not for the faint of heart. For many of us, there is nothing more daunting than “the talk.” Of course, the next heart-stopping moment is when you realize your child thinks he or she is ready for sex. What do you do, what steps do you take, how do you communicate your concerns and answer their questions?
Obviously, this is a complex subject, but the answers are available for you as your parenting role evolves with your child’s emerging sexuality. To open discussions and develop answers to the uncomfortable questions:
▪ Start early: Be prepared for the next developmental stage of your child’s life. As your child develops into a teen with active hormones, work with your pediatrician in addressing body parts in medical terms. Discuss the mechanics of sex. Reinforce that sex is a complex event that includes a list of responsibilities for both consenting parties. Get the dialogue going before anyone else does and fills your role, and make sure that it is a two-way conversation. Talk with — not at — your teens.
▪ Create a platform: As new parents, many of us quickly turned into experts. However, as our children grow, how often do we read up on issues, take classes, do research and more? We take all the necessary steps to teach our children how to ride a bike or drive a car, but do we apply the same effort to sexual health? Use teachable moments, and do not refer difficult or embarrassing questions to your partner or other adults.
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▪ Communicate your values: Studies show that children are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors as teens if they can discuss the sensitive topic of sex with their parents. Anticipate questions and have prepared answers ready. If you know how you will respond in advance, you will have an easier time sharing your values.
▪ Admit when you do not have the answer: As you set the stage for talks and expect your child’s questions — and some of those questions might be quite unexpected — admit when you don’t know the answer. Use those moments as a teaching and bonding opportunity as you find the answer together. Admitting you do not know everything also develops your child’s belief that you are the best resource for this subject.
▪ Dispel urban myths and reinforce truths: Kids will talk to each other and develop some strange myths about sex. Make sure your teen fully understands what will happen, what to expect, etc. In addition, whether you have a son or daughter, make sure they fully understand what sexual consent entails, including that “no” means no.
▪ Discuss the consequences of sex: There is nothing more painful than giving a positive STD or HIV diagnosis to a young person. If your teen is determined to have sex, make sure he or she has proper protection to ward off an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Discuss the many forms of contraceptives and jointly determine the right choice for your child and how it is used correctly.
▪ The emotional fallout: It is going to be a difficult time watching your child deal with rejection from a possible love interest or past partner. As heartbreaking as this will be, all you can do is be there to lessen the blow, support them with words of encouragement and help them learn from the painful experience.
▪ Preventing promiscuity: As parents, we must accept that our child may enjoy sex to the point that he or she is willing to seek out multiple partners. You must set boundaries and steer them into making healthy relationship choices. Choose other activities they enjoy or are involved in to keep them focused on things other than sex. Remind them that boys and girls will come and go, but activities such as athletics or clubs can lead to personal success or possibly a college scholarship.
▪ What if my teen isn’t ready? Our children are seeking and struggling with their independence, which is a natural part of child development. They may feel they are physically ready for sex, but many are not emotionally prepared. If you want to encourage your teen to wait to have sex, you have to step up and be prepared for a few battles. Yes, be flexible — listening to and acknowledging your child — but be firm in your decision. Be consistent in what you will and will not tolerate.
As your child becomes an adult, the best thing you can do is equip them with the tools to make informed decisions. If you need more information, contact the Division of Adolescent Medicine at the University of Miami Health System at 305-243-2174 or visit www.p2ponline.org.
Alex Moreno, MPH, is the Clinical Program Manager of the Adolescent Counseling and Testing Service at the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.