by Robin L Goldstein, EdD Licensed Psychologist

Many parents worry about whether their teenager is sexually active. How can we talk about this? How can I protect my son or daughter from experiences for which they are not yet prepared? Will my teenager share my sexual values? Don’t let anxiety or fear about this topic keep you from talking about sex with your adolescents. Research shows that teenagers who have good communication and good relationships with their parents are much less likely to have sex prematurely.

While the music and videos that teens watch give the impression that “everyone is doing it” this is not, in fact, the case. Recent surveys (Gutmacher Institute, Sept, 2006) show that only 40% of American teenagers have had intercourse by age 17. Parents who remain involved can help their teenager avoid the perils of too early sexual behavior.

Younger, more immature teenagers (under 17) are less likely to use contraception and are therefore more at risk for unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Helping your teen to delay sex until they have the maturity to cope with it gives your child a better chance at avoiding having their future waylaid by unexpected consequences.

Simply telling your teenager that they CAN’T will not do the trick. In fact, parents have no control over their children’s sexuality. What they can protect is their role as a trusted and caring resource to help their teen deal with these often difficult issues. Most teenagers will not want to discuss their sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviors with their parents. Parents are often uncomfortable with these issues as well but conversation about sex does not have to be about who, how much and when. Open up the door to talking about feelings, values. Watching TV or movies with your teenager will often present opportunities to talk about sex in a third party manner-take advantage about these. Be alert for clues to your child’s interest or anxiety about sex and engage in “what-if” types of conversation without making it personally uncomfortable.

Don’t shy away from conversations about contraception and the need to prevent pregnancy. Both boys and girls need information about these issues. While many parents are uneasy about their child becoming sexually active a much greater fear should be a risk of unwanted pregnancy and the threat that would present to a child’s development and educational and career opportunities.

As in so many areas of your maturing adolescent’s life, sex is something that requires the concern and interest of caring parents even when your son or daughter tries to throw you off the topic. Look for those “teachable moments” and take advantage of them.

If you are the parent of a teenager and are concerned about your relationship with your child, I can help, contact me.