Teen Talk: Let’s Talk about Sex Friday, April 5, 2013

This is the second in a series about talking to your teens about sex and puberty from Children’s National pediatrician and mother, Ivor Horn, MD.

The things that nudge me to have conversations with my kids are often random.  I see something on TV, read something in a magazine, overhear a conversation in the mall and I’m reminded, “I should talk to the kids about that.”

Usually it is something that I feel I haven’t shared or haven’t shared recently.  Usually it’s a freaked out, “OMG! I need to tell her NOT to do that and I need to tell her NOW.”  Then I count to 100, breathe, and put it on my list of things to talk about but to wait for the opportunity. More importantly, to wait for when I’m not freaking out. That’s usually what happens when I’m reminded that I need to have the sex talk – again. Because it is not one conversation, it is many.

Tip #1: Don’t talk to your kids when you are freaking out.  It will freak them out too.

When I talk to my patients about sex, I start with asking if they know anyone who is having sex.  By distancing the act from their direct behavior, it is usually easier to get the conversation started.  Then I build to what their close friends are doing.  Finally we talk about their behavior.

Amazingly, that’s a useful technique for my kids too! As a pediatrician, I’m building rapport.  As a parent, it helps me keep my composure.  I’m much less likely to be reactive to the earlier questions about friends if the answer is yes, so I prepare myself for the response when my child is talking about what they know or what they are doing themselves.

Tip #2: Ease into the discussion, for you and for them.

Be sure you are clear on what you mean when you say “sex.” Kids may think that only vaginal intercourse is sex.  This can definitely be uncomfortable for parents but it is important.  Teens are participating in other sexual behaviors other than vaginal intercourse. More than 50 percent of 15-24 year olds had oral sex before they had their first sexual intercourse.

What about petting? Kissing? For my patients I’m much more direct about this discussion.  In some ways, they expect these questions from me because I’m the doctor.  But when it’s my own child, I found that using this tip to ease into the discuss works well.

Tip #3: Don’t give in to (parental) peer pressure.

One of my daughter’s biggest frustrations with us is that we won’t let her watch certain TV shows that her friends are allowed to watch.  Cries of “You treat me like a kid,” flow from her room on a regular basis these days, because she is officially a teenager now.  How that means she’s not a kid anymore is lost on me, but I digress.  I get it.

Her friends are talking about what they saw on TV last night and how the latest drama in the characters’ relationships is unfolding and she can’t really be a part of the conversation.  She feels left out and there may be a little bit of “Your parents won’t let you watch it? They are so strict” going on too.  We’ve made it clear to her that we don’t want her watching these shows because they deal with issues that she doesn’t need to deal with right now.  We often use TV shows to spark a conversation, but when they bombard our kids with messages that we don’t agree with we have the right to turn it off.

I want our voice to be louder in my child’s head than the TV producer’s, so she needs to hear more of me than of them.  What you share as a parent matters.  Don’t just give up that status by letting other voices speak louder to your kids than yours.  That’s true for discussions about any topic, not just sex.

Tip #4: Don’t push your kids, but give them time to talk.

My latest conversation with my daughter about sex kind of freaked me out.  I realized that she is definitely not a little kid anymore.  She is a full-blown teenager, but she’s still a kid.  I did a lot of listening.  She did a lot of sharing.  We will pick up the conversation again soon, when the time is right.

If what I have shared has sufficiently freaked you out – good.  But try not to react, rather respond using some of the tips I have shared above or constructive ones you have received from others.  The important foundation for discussing sex or any other sensitive topic with your children is love and trust.  My husband says as parents of a teen, our job is to be the seat belt.  We restrain our child from potentially dangerous situations but also cradle them so they know we are close.  Would you ever let your child drive without a seatbelt?  Never?  So don’t let your child get on the road of life without talking to them about sex.

For more research, here’s a great reference from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Adolescent Health that I’ve found useful.

Categories: Teens
Topics: Sex
Authors: Cydney Cappello


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