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Parenting styles are as unique as we and our children are, but there are, nonetheless, some things almost all parents have in common:

  • Parents worry about their children. 
  • Time passes an awful lot more quickly that we had anticipated when we first became parents. 

So now, those two things have converged — you have recently found out that your teenager is sexually active. You're having trouble grasping that the child who had trouble sleeping without their stuffed animal "only yesterday" is now suddenly having sex, and you're worried. About sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, perhaps, about your child's emotional wellbeing, and also, maybe, about moral values (and your child not adopting yours). 

What Now?

Now, you take a deep breath. If you've logged onto the web to find answers rather than getting into verbal altercations with your teen right away, kudos to you. You want to discuss this whole sex thing with your teen, but you also really, really want your teen to listen to you when you do — and that requires both of you to be calm. 

You have hopefully already discussed sex and sexuality with your child before, but now that it is no longer a hypothetical issue, you will want to go for a refresher course and have a heart-to-heart. 

You are your child's parent, and I'm not — so I won't tell you what steps you should take next or what moral principles should guide your actions in regards to this (or any other) topic. What I can tell you is that it's often most helpful to work out what your priorities are before talking to your teen. 

Mine would look something like this:

  • I'd want to know whether my teen's sexual activity was entirely consensual, in other words, that they were not in an abusive situation. 
  • I'd want to know that my teen was armed with all the right info about safe sex. 
  • I'd want to work on preserving the relationship between me and my teen in this new phase of life, and to make sure we could continue communicating openly and honestly. 
Facilitating that generally involves providing judgment-free information, practicing active listening, and asking questions in a non-defensive, open manner. An assurance that your teen can talk to you about anything without being yelled at often goes a very long way, too. 

How Can I Help My Teen Make Safe Decisions About Sex?

According to Planned Parenthood, teens who have supportive relationships with their parents are more likely to use condoms consistently, and they also have fewer sex partners. The best thing you can do is to be supportive rather than judgmental, but to discuss ways to have safe sex and to share your idea of what a healthy relationship is with your teen.

You can also leave condoms and literature about sex and relationships around your house for your teen to use, and tell them that you're always willing to drive them to the doctor's. Don't skip the talk about sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, and encourage your teen to talk to a doctor about these issues if they do not feel comfortable talking to you.

If You Think Your Teen Is In An Abusive Relationship

If your teen appears to be depressed, is socially isolating themselves from their family and peers, appears to be afraid of their boyfriend or girlfriend, or you've noticed that your teen and their partner have an explosive relationship that features verbal abuse and threats, you've noticed some of the signs that your teen may be in an abusive relationship. 

They will very much benefit from your emotional support in this situation, but you will both benefit from professional help as well. Therapists, social workers, school guidance counselors, and other trusted adults can all help. 

Why Didn't My Teen Tell Me They Were Sexually Active?

Some parents who find out their teen is sexually active will immediately exclaim: "But s/he used to tell me everything! We were two peas in a pod! What happened?"

It may be that your teen was afraid of your reaction, especially if they knew that you'd rather they weren't having sex. (That would encompass most parents.) It may also be that your teen considers sex a private matter that they would rather not discuss with you, no matter how close you otherwise are. It happens. I'm sure you don't enjoy talking about sex with your parents either. The difference may be that your teen is still a minor, and you're still responsible for their safety and wellbeing. If you can wiggle yourself into a situation where you can openly discuss the broad picture without going into the goriest details, you will find you have hit the golden spot. 

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