Sex and Teenagers

Sex is THE big subject parents avoid. The interesting thing is that
by the time teenagers begin dating, they already know way more about sex than parents imagined. Why? One reason is that elementary school children now attend sex-ed classes at earlier and earlier ages. Sometimes this occurs in the sixth or even the fifth grade. (Twenty years ago, sex-ed classes were not offered until eighth grade, but the social consequences of delaying have proved too big to ignore.) Another reason is that the Internet offers so many more sources of information than ever before. It is virtually impossible to withhold information from anyone who is Internet savvy. This is true for younger and younger people, despite parent’s wishes to the contrary. Another reason–and this one is not new–kids talk. While they may have erroneous information, they communicate.
They communicate via networks that only a few years ago did not exist
(Twitter, Facebook, IM, Utube, Texting, etc.). These phenomena have
exploded, with mixed results. But one good thing is that teens are
instantly and constantly bombarded with information. Guess what subject
is most often entered into search engines. Sex.
Sex is going to happen. It is not a question of if, but when. You crossed this threshold, and so will your teenager. Relax and take a deep breath. You survived and so will they.
The way to deal with sex is the same as with driving, or makeup, or cell phones (see previous articles by this authors on these subjects), only your teen will likely not tell you when “the event” happened. It’s too intimate and is too big of a transition event. In my experience
as a marriage and family counselor, I have heard of only one teenager who
voluntarily shared her first sexual experience with her mother. This was very rare. Usually, parents get wind of something happening because teens are careless and leave evidence behind. You can guess what kinds of things you will find.
Your task is to educate and train your teen. A sex-ed class is
generally a good place to start, but the real training and education should be in the home, conducted by the parents. If you don’t do this, your teen will find out information about sex anyway, but it may not be the kind of information you want them to have, or worse, it may be wrong, which could be deadly, i.e., misinformation safe-sex behaviors, STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) and pregnancy. Once informed, your teen will venture “out there,” like with driving, and your influence will
diminish proportionately.
So, when do you have the talk? The answer is when your child is ready. This could be signaled by them asking sex questions. It could be signaled by puberty, the onset of which you will notice before they do.
You can always bring it up in a casual way, and then judge by their reactions whether or not they are ready. Usually, teens won’t bring this up by themselves because it’s too personal, too big and too embarrassing.
This is all normal. Be patient, but be watchful. The time will come and when it does, be real, relaxed and informative. Treat sex like any other topic. Your child will take his or her cue from you, hopefully dealing with the subject with the same demeanor modeled, shaped and cued by you.
If your child is a pre-teen when those questions are asked, provide answers at pre-teen depth, or more specifically answer only what is asked at the level asked. Some kids are precocious, so with bright teens or even pre-teens, be prepared. Don’t be afraid to provide what is asked. My rule as a psychologist is that when a question is asked, the asker is ready to receive the answer. I’m much more wary of when it is appropriate to ask questions but instead there is silence.

-Dr. Griggs
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