Bringing up this sensitive subject with your teenager can be difficult and embarrassing for both of you but it is essential that you set some time aside to talk about these issues.
The chances are that between their friends, TV, the internet and in-school sex education, they know the basic facts about sex, but teenagers have so much more to deal with in the area of sex and the changes that they experience and so we need to discuss the wider issues with them. Some of these issues to cover include ensuring they are confident that they know the facts and if they need to ask questions, then they can ask you.
Try to choose the time, place and approach you can take carefully. Try to be relaxed! Don’t sit the teenager down and the table and say ‘Now- lets talk about sex’ – that clearly will embarrass the teenager and certainly not initiate an honest and open conversation! It is best to bring the subject around based on something else. For example, if you are watching a TV and there is a programme discussing drugs, bring the subject up by asking your teenager what they think about the discussion. Ask them what it is like for teenagers today. If you can share something from your own experiences when you were that age, this will benefit the conversation as it is showing your willingness to talk to them about how you felt. The teenager may open up and discuss the subject with you. If so, be very careful on how you react. Be very respectful and appreciate that this is difficult for your teenager so avoid commenting on or judging their opinions. Press the essential pause button if you are shocked by something, listen and let them finish. Do not react without thinking through what has been discussed and how you feel you should deal with it. Let them speak, listen carefully and keep calm. If you want to explore something that was said, refer back to it for discussion. Try not to show shock or disapproval while the teenager is speaking as this may discourage them and they will not continue.
It often helps to dispel feelings of embarrassment if you use the proper terms for body parts and other sexual matters. Using proper names such as vagina, penis, womb and so forth can keep the discussion more matter of fact and concentrate on the facts rather than colloquial or street names.
Sexual health and sexually transmitted diseases are also subjects that you need to chat about. Make sure that you are fully up to date with current sexual trends, wording and so forth. Check out the HSE for leaflets on helping to talk to teenagers about sex and contraception and you can also check with your GP for leaflets or booklets to help. Many bookshops stock excellent material for teenagers which you can let them read and then discuss the material with them.
Your teen needs to be informed about sexual health and the importance of keeping themselves safe. The first thing that you should do is get the facts! Research the more common sexually transmitted diseases and make sure that you know the subject before you talk to your teenager. The vital message to communicate to them is the various infections and how to make sure that if they are going to have sex, the know how to protect themselves sufficiently. It is not easy for a parent to think about their teenager having sex but we have to overcome that. Informing your teenager does not mean that you are telling them to become sexually active. Instead, it is ensuring your teenager is aware of how to be safe and also that you are willing to discuss these matters with them. Reassure them that they can talk to you about any problem they may have – whether they are worried about something, they need more information about something or have a problem that they need help with. Remind them that you are always there for them and willing to help.
Of course, unwanted pregnancy is a subject that should be discussed with both boys and girls. Although the old saying that the girl is ‘left holding the baby’ is true in many ways, we need to stress the responsibility of having a child with both boys and girls. Boys must be taught that they are equally responsible for ensuring that the girl does not get pregnant – it is not the sole responsibility of the girl. Talk about the practical aspects of having a baby, from financial support to being a responsible parent. The constraints that being a parent will place on the teenager such as lack of sleep, lack of freedom for socialising and holidays, minding and rearing a child and much more. As a parent, you can extend this list based on your own experience.
Discuss contraception options available but do your research first. You need to educate yourself before you can educate your teenager about choices available today. As stressed earlier in this article, discussing contraception does not mean that you are encouraging them to be sexually active. Give your commitment and assurance that you will help and advice whenever your teenager needs it.
Don’t expect miracles! Not all teenagers will find it easy to talk about these subjects. Keep trying and keep the lines of communication open. If the teenager won’t talk to you, then you keep talking to them. This reassures them by showing that you are there for them and when they are ready to talk, you are ready to listen. It may take time but remember, they are trying to find their way in adulthood and need the loving support of their parents!