As a parent, there are certain moments in our teenagers’ lives that we fear. The first time they get behind the wheel of a car; the first time they come home from a party and you smell alcohol; the first time you find out they are having sex; all terrifying moments. Some parents are not bothered by the idea of their teen having sex, as long as the teen uses protection from disease and pregnancy. Through my years of working with teens though, I have found most parents are unprepared and definitely upset when their teen becomes sexually active.
Sexually active teens tend to have an intensity in their dating relationships that is less common to abstinent teens. It is not surprising. Sex is a very emotionally intimate process that moves a relationship to a completely different level. To stand naked in front of someone is a metaphor for emotional vulnerability that just does not exist with clothes on. Teens are very, very rarely mature enough to handle the emotional bonding and closeness that occurs with sex.
As a parent, what do you do if you discover your teen is sexually active? Firstly, please do not be one of those parents who think that your teen’s business is private. Please don’t be that mom who tells your daughter you’ll get her birth control and condoms, and then you won’t ask questions. I’ve heard mom’s tell me, “As long as she’s not getting pregnant, I don’t want to know.” This attitude leaves your child to chart very adult waters without any adult perspective. This means the only advice your teen is getting is from his or her other inexperienced, adolescent friends. Also, please do not be one of those parents that glorifies teenage sex. You are not doing your child any favors by saying things like, “Way to go son, now you’re really a man.”
You most certainly need to sit down with your teen and have a conversation. There need to be rules. The teen needs to understand what comes along with the decision to be sexually active. You are better off too old-fashioned than too permissive. It’s okay if your teen gets mad at you. Later, when they are no longer even speaking to their current sexual partner, they will thank you for setting limits. It might not be for ten years, but they will thank you. As a therapist, I have heard clients tell me they wished their parents had done more to forbid their sexual behavior in the past. I have heard this more times than I can count from male and female clients. This is always said after the fact, when the break-up has occurred.
If you can’t tell by now, I am coming from a perspective where waiting is best. The longer your teen waits, the healthier their choices will be. They will blossom into a person who can make mature decisions about a partner. For all you Christian parents, talk gently with your teen about God’s design for sex. Help them to know that God offers forgiveness for their choice, and please be graceful. Telling them that they are a sinner who has ruined their future marriage will only engender sneaky behavior in your child.
No matter what, this is a difficult and delicate topic. While you can’t avoid it, don’t be a bull in a china shop either. Remember above all else to show love and care towards your teenager. Don’t be afraid to inform the parents of your child’s sexual partner, but also handle this with a lot of care. Love and respect are the first ingredients to this being a successful conversation.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Lauren Goodman, MS, MFT