Your teen is bombarded with messages about sex from peers, media, partners and the internet.  Combined with the perplexing changes happening in their bodies and brains, this can be a very confusing topic for teens.  As a parent, you are the best source for teaching your teen what you want them to know about sex, and helping them to make smart and healthy choices.  Sometimes, that it is easier said than done. It is not at all unusual for parents not to know how to initiate conversations about sex and many parents find the task both scary and intimidating. Here are some tips to help you prepare for the TALK

Preparing for the Conversations

When you talk to your teen about sex, chances are you will have some specific objectives in mind. As with any tough conversation, knowing what you want to accomplish before you start helps to build your confidence and prepare you for the unexpected.

Sex and sexuality are usually associated with very strong values, emotions and opinions, especially for parents.  Identifying your feelings and goals for your teen will probably take a little self-reflection on your own personal values about sex, and what you ultimately want for your teen as a future adult. Thinking about the answers to the questions below can help you prepare for the conversation. If you are raising a teen with a partner/spouse, talking about these together is often a good idea.

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Starting Conversations

Now that you’ve clarified your values and have a better sense of your goals, it’s time to take deep breath, and identify some ways to get the actual conversation going. Here are some things that have worked for other parents:

Look for Opportunities for Conversation

  • Doing chores together –
    • “I’ve been seeing a lot of things on TV lately that seem pretty sexual. I know there are a lot of messages out there that can be really confusing, and it’s got me wondering how you feel about it.”
  • Watching a movie together –
    • “Wow, they got physical pretty quickly.  What do you think?”
    • It didn’t look like they even used a condom… do you know how to use a condom?  (Note: If they don’t – consider getting one and showing them!  This is important for girls, too. Research has demonstrated that informed kids are actually less likely to engage in sexual activity in adolescence than uninformed kids.)

Acknowledge the awkwardness and expect uncomfortable lulls in the conversation

One of the reasons this conversation is so hard is because it can feel so awkward. You may lighten the awkwardness by simply acknowledging it and telling them how much you love and care about them: “Ok, so this may seem a little awkward, but it’s an important normal part of life that we need to talk about. Part of being a loving parent is ensuring that you have the information and tools to make healthy, informed choices about sex.”

  • Ask them about what they already know or about their friends’ experiences.  Ask what they think or feel. Avoid lecturing or preaching.  
    • “So, I’ve noticed your friend Sarah and her boyfriend seem to be getting pretty serious. Have the two of them talked about sex at all? Have you thought about how you will feel if you get that serious about Jacob?”
  • Be prepared to have these conversations on a regular basis.
    • Over time your teen will change, their situation changes, your views will change and, most importantly, there is too much information to fit in to one conversation.

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Opening the Door for Future Conversations

When the conversation is wrapping up, remember to reinforce the message that your teen can always come to you whenever they need someone to talk to.  Relationships and feelings change often, so keeping the lines of communication open will help your teen feel comfortable coming to you when something comes up.

“I want you to know that I will love you no matter what, and you can always come to me if you have any questions or just want to talk about these things.”

“I know you and [boyfriend/girlfriend] have decided to wait, and I am thrilled about that.  But if things do start to change, I want you to be prepared.  So let me know, and I will help you to get ready for the next step.”

The more you show how open you are, and that you unconditionally support your teen, the more likely they are to feel comfortable talking to you about their feelings and experiences, and the more likely they are to make smart and healthy choices about sex.

What do you want your teen to know about sex that will help him or her as an “emerging” or young adult?

Resources:

KidsHealth.org: Questions and Answers about Sex

Mayo Clinic: Sex Education: Talking to your teen about Sex

Planned Parenthood: Talking to Kids about Sex and Sexuality
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By Shari Blumenstock

ShariShari Blumenstock is a Master’s student in the Human Development and Family Studies department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She studies sex and sexuality within romantic relationships.  Shari has been involved with University Extension programs, and has worked with older teens as a camp counselor for four years.