As an OB/GYN and an advocate for teen pregnancy and STD prevention, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to interact with parents on the topic of teen sexual health. Often, parents allow misperceptions and worries about what to say to their kids about sex become obstacles to effective communication. As a parent, you want to be able to provide the very best guidance to your kids. The more knowledge you have, the more empowered you will feel.
The following points will help you to avoid sentiments that can interfere with your efforts to proactively and confidently parent your teen about sex. Positive advice is given to replace unhelpful or even negative thinking and actions. By changing your mind-set, you can become a more assured and capable parent. That’s my goal and I know it’s your goal too.
1. Don’t delay talking with your teens about sex, unintended pregnancy and STDs. The time is now and you don’t have to feel daunted by the task. Become an informed parent, while keeping an open mind and a sense of humor. Also, remember your own teen years to help keep things in perspective.
2. Don’t worry that you’ll say the wrong thing, or say too little or too much. Trust your instincts and remember that you’ll have several opportunities to get your point across. If you say something that you later regret, find the time to let your teen know what you really meant to get across.
3. Don’t expect perfection or lose confidence in your ability Remember that you have already helped your child learn how to do all kinds of things, from using the potty to riding a bicycle to saying “please” and “thank you.” Communicating about sexual behavior and what your values are is another one of these important tasks—you can do it.
4. Don’t underestimate the influence you have on your teen’s sexual behavior. Parents often worry about the effect of peer pressure, but surveys by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reveal that parents have more influence on teen sexual behavior than their friends do. This feeling was echoed by teens in the Pregnancy and STD Prevention Program that I led in Los Angeles.
5. Don’t hesitate to use social networking sites and media to your advantage. Song lyrics, movies, and TV episodes often provide teachable moments. You can have a thoughtful conversation with your teen about sexuality, respect, commitment, and self-esteem based on things you’ve seen or heard in the media. Facebook and Twitter posts can also offer a foundation for conversations with your teen about values and how he or she can best navigate the sexual landscape that they encounter growing up.
6. Don’t assume you know what your teen is doing or whom they’re with. The odds are you weren’t a perfect teen, so expecting perfection in your teen isn’t realistic. Sometimes, parents assume that their kid is not having sex and are shocked when they learn that’s not the case. You can simply ask your teen if they’ve thought about having sex. This may allow you to pick up on possible reasons for concern. And, never hesitate to pick up the phone and call to verify that an adult will be present at a friend’s house party. Supervision, especially for very young teens, is an essential prevention measure against all types of risky behavior.