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Teaching Moment: Talking to Your Teen About Sex

Thursday, February 11, 2016 7:25 AM

Most of us remember the “birds and the bees” conversation with our parents. We were uncomfortable, they were probably stressed, it was a lot of information and we tried to forget it. As a parent yourself, you now have the opportunity to change that memory for your kids. While teens learn about sex education in class, it is a parent’s responsibility to teach them beyond that and about healthy sexuality.

Leslie Noble, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore know how difficult this topic can be. It is important to have the talk earlier so your kids can be better prepared as they head into their teenage years. But know that it is never too late to have a conversation with your kid.

To start the conversation – and keep it ongoing – Dr. Noble shares ways to get started:

  • Little at a time. Try approaching sex education with multiple conversations and not one big talk. Sex education is important and there are many parts to it. If you have one big conversation with your teen, you will lose their interest and it can get confusing.
  • Keep talking. If you do not think that your teen is listening to you, keep talking. Chances are they are too embarrassed to talk to you but they are still listening to what you have to say.
  • Be honest. If you are uncomfortable and a little nervous starting the first conversation, tell them that you are. Knowing that you both are in this together can make discussing this subject a little easier.
  • Any time. If you wait for the perfect moment to start the conversation, it may never happen. Use a TV show or advertisement to spark the conversation.
  • Be direct. Sex education is not just about sex. Teens should be aware that sex has risks, like emotional pain, infections, inappropriate touching and potential unplanned pregnancy. When discussing these risks, do not use them as a scare factor but more educational purposes.
  • Learn together. If your teen has a question that you do not know the answer to, look it up together.
  • Keep the conversations going. It is okay to talk about sex and your teen needs to know that. When your teen comes to you with a question, let them know you appreciate it with “I’m glad you came to me.”

Pre-teens may not be sexually active, but they think they know more than they really do. Take an opportunity to first learn what they know and correct them on what they are misinformed about. When they inform you with what they think something means, do not judge them or make them feel silly for thinking that. Offer “I could see how you could think that, but did you know it actually means…” During the conversation, highlight the fact that sex is not just physical connection – but an emotional connection too.

No matter how awkward talking about sex with your teen may be, always discuss it with them. While they probably do not want to admit it, teenagers sometimes want advice and support from their parents. The conversations can take place in the car so you do not have to make eye contact – or while you are cleaning up after dinner. It is important for your teen to understand that the media is not accurate – the majority of young people are not sexually active. Help them understand that sex should be about mutual consent and no one should pressure them into it.

If you need further guidance on how to have this conversation with your teen, talk to their doctor. They will have some talking points and reading material for you and your teen to go over.

How did you approach the conversation with your kid?