By Shilpa Vernekar, M.D.
As a parent you have been by the side of your child, from the adorable infancy stage (and those not so adorable sleepless nights, trying in vain to rock the baby to sleep), through the “terrible two’s,” all the way up until puberty. You have been the one holding his/her hand and passing down small, golden nuggets of wisdom to help your child grow and excel. Then, the teen years start.
This is a turbulent phase for parents and children alike. Conflict is natural during this time, which we all know often comes with several big life changes for the child: the start of high school, the much-anticipated driver’s license (and subsequently terrifying driving lessons with Mom and Dad), perhaps the first serious romantic relationship for your child, and of course – the sex education talk.
As a parent, you may be wondering how to approach the topic regarding sex education and when to have the sex education talk. Those kids doubtlessly threw “the stork theory” away years ago along with Santa Claus and the tooth fairy. The teenage years, with high levels of hormones and emotions, are a time when kids may wish to explore the topic of sex, and curiosity is quite natural during this phase of life. However, they most likely do not wish to explore this topic with their…(gasp) parents!
Therefore, as a parent, one must think strategically about certain aspects of this conversation, such as when and where to have it.
When is the right time?
The day that your mind starts to think about providing sex education advice, that is the right time. You know your child more than the school teacher or his/her friends. So if you are wondering if this is the right time, then yes it is. Let it not be delayed beyond 13 years of age.
What is the right location?
A place where the chances of you both being uninterrupted is best. Also, a place that the teenager sees as familiar is desirable. For example, you could begin this conversation in the teenager’s room. If a straight eye-to-eye conversation makes you uncomfortable, you can do an activity together, such as cleaning the room. You can help to arrange things in their proper places until the ice has been broken and the conversation has started.
How do I start the topic?
Try to assess how much your child already knows. As much as you feel your teen might be clueless this area, the chances are that he/she already has information through school, friends, books, TV, or the Internet. Teenagers know way more than we think they know.
So, the best way is to hit right on the topic.
What are the important aspects to be covered?
- First, gather the information that your teen already has. Listen to him/her and then attempt to correct the information.
- Secondly, explain what could be the possible consequences of having sex, including: emotional involvement, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STI), and impact on school life and higher education.
- Research has shown that having a baby in the teenage years permanently impairs the career opportunities for both the teenage mom and dad. Pregnancy and birth is a serious life-altering change that cannot be reversed. Hence casual sex should not be taken lightly.
- Thirdly, make sure your teen is also aware about inappropriate touching, which can slowly evolve into sex. It is important for the teen to know that he/she should not be forced into having sex under any pressure.
- Let them know how substances like alcohol and/or drugs can affect thinking and impair judgment. Discuss the very real possibility that using these substances could lead to sexual activity that the teenager is not ready for and could even potentially lead them to become a victim of sexual abuse.
- Peer pressure, curiosity, and the desire to be loved are some of the reasons why teenagers have their first sexual experience before they are ready for it. Emphasize that you do not wish for this to happen to them because they may have regrets later if they participate in sexual activity that they are not ready for.
- All of this conversation may not happen in one day.
- Be patient. Just like you needed time to teach your child, his/her A,B,C alphabets, similarly you will need time to guide your child about sex. Gain his/her confidence, and emphasize that you will always be there to answer all of their questions and help them through this phase.
- If you have any personal, family, religious or cultural beliefs, pass on this information as well to your child.
- If you feel comfortable, you may share your positive/negative experiences about sex to your teen, which could help in the teen’s decision-making process.
- Lastly, make sure your teen is aware about common birth control options. You can always visit his/her pediatrician to help you explain these options in detail.
Some common birth control methods:
- Abstinence – Avoid sex. It is ideal but not always practical.
- Withdrawal method- It has a high failure rate and does not protect against STI.
- Barrier methods (Male and female condoms) – Effective if used the right way. Offers protection against STI, but not highly reliable to prevent pregnancy.
- Hormonal methods- Birth control pills, Depo shot, patch, ring, implant and intrauterine device. These methods are more effective in preventing pregnancy, but they do not offer protection against STI.
- Others- Basal body temperature method, cervical mucus changes and calendar method to predict ovulation. These techniques are unreliable in preventing pregnancy or predicting ovulation for a teenager who has irregular menses or fails to keep track of their menstrual cycles.
More detailed discussion on each of these methods can be easily provided by your teen’s pediatrician.
At the end of the conversation, feel good about helping your teen make the correct choices. Studies have shown that when parents have a positive approach towards sex and are willing to guide their teenagers through it, unwanted outcomes of sex are avoided and the teenager is more capable of making the right choice. When it comes to the birds and the bees, knowledge is power.
- Don’t wait too late to have “the talk.” If you feel this may be the right time, it most likely is.
- Open the conversation in a casual, light way. You could even be working on an activity together with your teenager, such as helping him/her clean their room.
- Remember to explain to your teenager that sex is not something to be rushed into prematurely due to peer pressure, curiosity or a desire to be loved.
This blog was first published on http://www.muscogeemoms.com