Having “the talk” with our kids is never easy. Just getting through saying the various anatomic names can be daunting for even the most savvy or parents. It used to be that we would talk about the basics, reproduction, and add sexuality, birth control and life issues like babies later on as our kids got older. The news of 17 pregnant teens in Gloucester, MA in 2008 rocked our beliefs to their core and there was a great deal of talk about how we can improve on reaching teens more effectively.
Given how many celebrity teen moms we now have and shows glamorizing teen pregnancy it’s clear we haven’t learned our lesson and are still not willing to see that teens need a different approach…one that takes into account the reality of what today’s teens are truly doing sexually and that goes beyond the basics to include:
- Accurate and honest information
- A discussion of consequences
- Problem solving ways to keep themselves safe – that is, an honest talk of birth control
- The knowledge they can turn to their parents if something goes wrong
Accurate and Honest Information
Accurate information is easy for parents, especially with the help of websites, books and basic reproductive health taught in 5th grade. Where parents have trouble is going the step further and being honest with their tweens and teens about the facts. The facts that need to be discussed are the basic facts of reproduction, the fact that sex leads to a baby, and the fact that something called birth control exists. To leave out any of those facts is not being honest with our kids about the full picture of reproduction and sexuality. In today’s society, kids need all this information, even in a basic form, our of the birds and bee talk gate.
A Discussion Of Consequences
Teens don’t problem solve well about sexual behavior so you have to do it for them and keep it simple. My talk with teens about consequences of sex is simple: “If you have sex as a teen, you’ll either become a teenage parent, get a disease, or both.” Teens are very impulsive. They think sex is fun and babies are cute. If you start spelling out the reality of having a baby or getting a disease, most teens will begin to wake up and want to take steps to be more responsible.
Enlist your pediatrician’s help in talking to your teen about sexually transmitted diseases. Most teens become quite stunned when they learn the details of many of those STDs. To give your teen a reality check about life with a baby, don’t just tell them stories of your teen or other kids as cute babies – tell the tough stuff: hours of colic, sleepless nights, trips to the pediatrician, sick stuff, diapers, feeding, no social life, no money for anything but baby stuff. Don’t paint a pretty or overly glorious picture.
Problem Solving and Ways to Keep Them Safe
While many parents hope their kids will not have sex, clearly that is a pipe dream. To truly keep your teens out of trouble if they have sex, birth control and the HPV shot for girls are the best methods at the moment. It is a huge myth that talking about birth control and the HPV shot will entice your kids into sexual activity. Teens who have decided to have sex will do so with or without their parents “consent”. Think of it like this. You don’t have to approve or like your teen’s decision to have sex and you can let your teen know that. But, as a parent, you have a responsibility to help your teen not do something too stupid, either. Teens are impulsive and sometimes need rope to run with a gently tug back.
BTW, abstinence only programs don’t work. But, what does work is giving teens information and having parents who support them. What also works is keeping teens busy in other activities and helping keep their self-esteem high. Teens with high self-esteem who have lots of activities in their lives tend to not look for the “other” form of gratification too young.
The Knowledge They Can Turn To Their Parents
For problem solving to really work, our teens need to know they can talk to us. I know too many teens way too fearful of talking to their parents about issues of sex and sexuality for fear of being disowned. That’s very sad to me. Our teens need to know we won’t always be happy with their choices but they also need to know we will unconditionally love and support them regardless of the outcome. If you haven’t seen the movie June, see it. The way those parents handled the news of Juno’s pregnancy is a model to us all.
The biggest pill to swallow here is that teens are having sex, in all walks of life. If we all become more honest about that perhaps we can cultivate a more open atmosphere in our own homes so our own teens make better choices than the Gloucester teens did (or Bristol Palin or Jamie Lynn Spears) – and one less baby born to a teen.
(Originally posted September 2008; Updated December 2009)