Your Teen is Sexually Active. Now What?
Surprises are fun unless that surprise is accidentally discovering that your teen is sexually active. Here’s an all too familiar scenario and what we as parents can do next if it happens to us: You and your daughter just got home from grocery shopping. She says she needs to use the restroom before she helps unload the groceries. She dashes off, leaving her phone on the counter. As you start putting the produce away, you hear the chime of a text notification.
When you instinctively glance in the direction of the sound, you realize that it is your daughter’s phone, and you see it’s from her friend—the one who practically lives at your house during the summer. You yell to your daughter that her friend texted when you happen to read the first few lines on the home screen: “OMG!!! U n Dan did it? How was it? Did it hurt? Tell me everything!” OK, it doesn’t take a Ph.D. to figure out what this is about. You have discovered that your teen is sexually active. Now what? Here are suggestions for how to handle this conversation.
How you respond in body language, tone, and consequences will determine if the line of communication stays open or closed. Pick a good time and place to have the conversation. And, if your emotions get the best of you, keep in mind: There is always another opportunity to try again.
Listen as your teen shares his or her perspective.
Be patient and calm, but mostly just listen. Most likely, teens will have an opinion that rationalizes their choice, although their rationale may not line up with yours. Instead of shutting down their opinions, ask probing questions to figure out the depth of their belief and where they got it. Be careful that you are not asking leading questions in the direction you want to go, as this will shut the conversation down quickly. Questions to ask include the following: What is it about this person that led you to the decision to have sex with him or her? Is your relationship different now? How are you protecting your health and preventing pregnancy or STDs? What about the timing made it feel right? Avoid “why” questions, as they tend to make us feel defensive when responding.
After you allow them an opportunity to explain their reasoning and feelings, tell them that though they may already know your opinion on this issue, you still want to share the reasons you believe teens should not participate in sexual intimacy.
Let the research speak for itself.
Sex without a vow of commitment distorts the reality of true intimacy. Sexual intimacy, including sexting, impacts our brains, our bodies, our emotions, and our psychological health, especially for those who are experiencing it for the first time. For people who have sex without a vow of commitment, sex will have destructive results. For example:
- There are negative social consequences to being sexually active as an adolescent. Living in a social media world, word (and maybe even a picture) travels fast. Rumors spread and perceptions then change the way people think of us and can create a negative reputation—one that lasts well into adulthood.
- Research shows that teens who are sexually active and who are “friends with benefits” are more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy and catch STDs, including HPV, which can cause cancer. Teens also are likely to get other infections that if left untreated can threaten their health longterm, including future fertility.
- Sex and other romantic physical behaviors change our brain chemistry. It creates a chemical that makes us feel connected to a person in a lasting way. This feeling only gets stronger with more sexual activity, which makes it harder to end unhealthy relationships or to be able to see an unhealthy relationship as detrimental.
You set the boundaries.
Your teens may disagree with your reasons for requiring them to abstain from sexual intimacy. However, that doesn’t mean you let them continue to do what they want. Set boundaries and rules to help them avoid temptation. For example, they can’t be alone with a member of the opposite sex in their rooms or in the basement. Have them carpool with other people. And make your house the place to be so you can ensure the rules are followed.
What are the ways you keep yourself calm when having hard conversations with your kids?
Paige Clingenpeel is a licensed teen therapist and has worked on TV, radio, and web-based media. Her passion is creating health, hope, and humor for youth and their families.