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Ten Tips for Parents:
Talking with Your Adolescent about Sex

Author Interview

Pages 265 - 266


From the Book:
"The Sex Lives of Teenagers"
by Lynn Ponton, M.D.
ISBN 0-525-94561-X
Dutton, Published by the Penguin Group
375 Hudson Street, New York, NY 10014
Copyright © Lynn Ponton, 2000

Ten Tips for Parents: Talking with Your Adolescent about Sex

1. Speak directly with teenagers about sex, using simple language to describe both feelings and activities.

2. The discussions need to start early. If you wait to address sex until your child is a teenager, and then frame it only in terms of fears and prohibitions (e.g., risk of pregnancy or disease), it will be nearly impossible to develop reasonable communication. The topics will shift as your child matures, of course, but it will be much easier to address personal choices for sexual activity when your child is older if you have already had direct talks. Some ideas for earlier discussions include biological information, inquiring about and exploring language your child may hear outside the home, and observing and discussing messages around sexuality in the media.

3. Remember that sexuality is confusing for teens. Talk with them about the extremes in our cultural attitudes toward sex, from Victorian embarrassment to sexual provocation and exploitation.

4. Talking with teens about sex doesn't mean you have to discuss your own sexual experiences. It is possible, and preferable, to talk about feelings and lessons you've learned through experience without describing specifics. Exploring stories about other teens - real or fictional - can also promote discussion. Remember to ask teens for their opinions and ideas, and not just give them yours.

5 .It is not one talk that makes the difference, but an ongoing dialogue, and communicated morals, values, and examples. Addressing what teens encounter in the media, and whether it is accurate or not, is important; it can also be a great way to start a discussion.

6. All teenagers have sexual lives, whether with others or through fantasies, and an important part of adolescence is thinking about and experimenting with aspects of sexuality. This helps adolescents to discover and develop their individual sexual identity, a vital part of overall identity.

7. The wise parent recognizes that adolescence is about taking risks, sexually and in other ways, and will want his or her teen to have safe, healthy options, even if he or she is engaging in a behavior that runs counter to parental values. Encouraging your teen to talk with other trusted adults about sexuality is important.

8. Red flags that may help identify dangerous sexual risk-taking can include unprotected intercourse, repeated exposure to victimization in unhealthy or dangerous sexual relationships, or a history of sexually abusing others. Other more general psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, self-mutilation, and clusters of unhealthy risk-taking (shoplifting and driving recklessly; gang activity and substance abuse) might occur at the same time.

9. Educate yourself about the spectrum of adolescent sexual behaviors. Enforcing rigid gender roles or sexual orientation can be extremely damaging. Also, be attuned to the pressures on teens around sexuality (e.g., gender roles such as being a macho male or, as a female, having to have a boyfriend, etc.).

10. Parents communicate values and morals best by example; it's important to be aware of how you speak and act concerning sexual gender issues in front of your teens, who are watching, whether they acknowledge it or not. Adolescents respond best to suggestions rather than directives, highlighting the importance of the parent's role as guide during these crucial years.

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