Dating, recognized relationships, and less structured relationships are on teens’ minds. That can bring up the topic of sex, a subject some parents can be uncomfortable talking with their kids about. However, it’s important and should not be avoided. Keeping an open dialogue will teach teens how to start and maintain healthy relationships throughout their life.
When should parents talk about sex?
Parents should not wait for their teenagers to come to them before starting the conversation about sex. Teens are more likely to listen to what their parents have to say rather than their friends. But, that happens most successfully when parents make it a conversation.
Don’t simply tell your adolescent your views such as, “Don’t have sex” or “Use a condom.” Take the opportunity to explain why those sentiments are important to you and then why it should be important to them. Then, take the next step in the conversation and ask what your teenager thinks about your sentiment, listen to their ideas and reflect back what you hear with positive affirmation. Lay the foundation that the discussions will continue and that you always want to talk about this whenever your teen does.
Parents can also help their teen be prepared for if they are thinking about having sex. Most teens don’t plan their first encounter, so thinking through the “if” scenario can be helpful. Will they use protection, such as a condom? Where would they get a condom at that time? Should they start on birth control? At Children’s Minnesota, in our adolescent medicine clinic, providers talk through birth control with teens and parents and offer methods of contraceptives including long-acting reversible contraception like Nexplanon™ and intrauterine devices (IUDs).
How can parents talk about consent in the #MeToo era?
When it comes to sex, parents should start the conversation about consent early with their children and get them comfortable using their voices. No one is allowed to touch their body until they say it is OK. They should not be afraid to say, “No” or “Stop.” Reiterate the importance of staying sober so that kids can stay aware and use their voices effectively.
Even for kids who are very young, parents can do their part in this conversation themselves by creating clarity in language and adhering to “No” when parents say, “No” to their children. When you teach kids that sometimes you mean no and other times you don’t really mean it, you could be creating a confusing message.
What if a teen is dating?
Not all teenagers have a significant relationship. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of teens, ages 13-17, have not been in a dating or romantic relationship. For the one-third of teens who do have a significant relationship, parents can look at this as an opportunity to guide very important lessons about healthy relationships that include: communication, kindness, and respect and consent.
Teenagers should feel free to speak openly in relationships. Effective communication means listening and understanding each other’s feelings. Honesty is key to building trust with their boyfriend or girlfriend. If there’s an argument, they should talk about why they’re upset, find solutions together and be willing to compromise. There is no place for physical aggression. Ensuring your teen feels safe with their partner and hearing how they handle disagreements is important.
Teenagers should understand that people in relationships treat each other with respect and kindness. That includes understanding each other’s boundaries and not pushing them to go out of their comfort zone, including sexual activity. They should feel comfortable and able to say, “No” and have their wishes respected.
Also important is the use of social media, what teens post about their relationship, what pictures are shared with their friends, and what pictures or texts are shared between them. Given the number of hours of social media time kids spend on average daily, this is not something that most parents can constantly supervise. So set your expectations, tell them why it’s important to you and why it should be important to them, listen to their ideas, and be their friend on social media. Monitor their social activity and give verbal feedback on their posts when you see concerns or opportunities for improvement. Remind them that we are all learning together when it comes to social media.
Dr. Gigi Chawla on WCCO
Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, spoke with WCCO about how to talk to children about relationships, sex and consent. Watch the full segment below: