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Teens, Parents & Sex Moving from "The Talk" to True Dialogue

Jun 11, 2013

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a 25 percent drop in the U.S. teen birth rate from 2007 to 2011—good news because most Americans hope that young people will wait until maturity to begin a family.  Providing teens with medically-accurate information and access to effective contraception is necessary to reduce unintended pregnancy.  However, studies have also repeatedly shown that parental involvement is critical—particularly in encouraging teens to delay sexual activity. 

As a mother and Planned Parenthood health educator who works specifically with parents, I spend a lot of time talking about how we can help teens develop into sexually healthy adults.  The fact is that parents have an important role to play—and that role starts long before a teen begins dating.  Often parent-child communication about sexuality is referred to as “The Talk,” but I recommend that—instead of putting so much pressure on one big conversation—parents look for opportunities to develop an open, honest dialogue about their values, healthy relationships and sexual health

Teens And Sex

These opportunities—and the information you choose to share—will depend on your child’s age and maturity.  For example, if you’re watching television with your middle school student and a character behaves in a way that you find troubling, you might ask “What did you think when X pressured Y?”  Or “Watching her treat him like that really bothered me. What did you think?” An open-ended question provides a chance to listen to what and how your child is thinking, and to reinforce or counter a particular message.

Teen Sex TalkWith older teens, it might be appropriate to take a more direct approach—for example, if you walk in on your teenage son passionately kissing his girlfriend.  Acknowledge the situation with him after she leaves, then begin by focusing on health: “I didn’t mean to embarrass you…but I want you to know that I hope you always make the healthiest choices for yourself, and that includes pregnancy and STD prevention.”  Responses such as “Mom!” can be followed with: “Most people become sexually active at some point in their lives, and I really hope you think carefully about that decision…”  You can ask if he has questions, weave in the specific information and values you want him to consider, or choose to address those in depth separately.

The important thing is to open the lines of communication.  Remember, even brief exchanges can be meaningful.  Just keep looking for those natural openings—and keep the dialogue going.

 

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