Talk to your teens about sex | Sex in the Suburbs

I understand that you can be a well-meaning, wonderful parent and wake up one day with a 13-year-old, realizing there may be a few more details they need to know before embarking on their high school career.

Perhaps you’ve been really responsible in teaching your child about “stranger danger” and “safety zones”--who to tell and what to do if, heaven forbid, abuse takes place. Don’t limit talks about sexuality to this, subtly giving the message that all sexual touch is bad and scary and wrong. As a parent, you want your children to grow up and become involved in a loving, committed, caring relationship and potentially have families. This requires sex — and hopefully joyful, happy, loving sex.

Younger children only need basic information about body parts, how babies are made and safety. Preteens and teens need a lot more. It’s important to share with your youth the wonder and beauty of sexual relationships within a context of intimacy, emotional closeness and commitment. If all we talk about is what a bad choice having sex is, and all teens hear from the media and peers is how amazing sex is, there is a disconnect — another opportunity to tune out adults because we are not being real and honest with them.

Equally important is safety information presented in a new way. Middle and high school students too often share that they didn’t know they could contract sexually transmitted diseases through oral sex. Our youth need information, and they need to think about situations and repercussions before they find themselves in the middle of them with hormones raging.

Young people are going to learn about sex. The question is: Are they going to learn about it from you? Are they going to learn from their parents or trusted adults that you know about sex — that you understand its wonders and dangers? Are they going to put random pieces of information together in a conglomeration of truth and myth, or are they going to be lucky enough to have parents who deal with their discomfort and keep conversations going?

Here are a few tips to get started with your preteen or teen:

• Think about what messages you want to give your children about sexuality. How are you doing? What do you want to change or update?

• Practice makes better, not perfect. Explore books on the subject (see for links). Find some you are comfortable with and share them with your child or teen.

• Play “What If?” What if you find yourself on a date with someone you really like and they are pressuring you to do something you are uncomfortable with? What if your body is saying you want to do something, but your mind is saying you should wait? What if you are online and someone starts typing inappropriate comments or requests? How can I help you if that happens? If you are somewhere and need to leave, what code phrase should we have that means “Come get me now!”

Get support. Talk to like-minded friends, check out community resources, or take a class so you can feel more comfortable having these conversations at home.

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