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Your teen is quite probably sexually active. The following red flags indicate that this is the case:
The news that your child is sexually active is enough to distress any parent. But before you go tearing your hair out or screaming at your teen, take a deep breath. This is the time, according to parenting expert Jan Faull, M.Ed., that a parent needs to do some serious soul-searching. Ask yourself: How much of your teen's sex life can you actually control? How much are you going to make of this? Statements such as "Not as long as you live in this house!" or "You won't be my child anymore, if..." only make matters worse -- in fact, forbidding sexual activity usually backfires, since your teen will want to rebel. The unfortunate truth is that if your teen is intent on having sex, she is probably going to have it.Communication
Knowing this, consider what your goals should be. Although you can still encourage abstinence if that is what you believe in, your teen will be best served by your acceptance of the sexual activity and a frank discussion of sex. Your teen needs to know the facts about pregnancy, HIV, and STDs, and be given the tools -- contraception -- to protect herself. It's equally important to address emotional issues related to sex, such as how devastating a breakup can be when a relationship is sexual. Explain that sex is an adult responsibility with adult consequences.
Faull suggests telling your teen what your vision for her is -- that she graduate from high school, for example, and go off to college -- and how sad you would be if an unwanted pregnancy made such a future impossible. Bear in mind that teens with low self-esteem sometimes have sex to be liked or accepted. You can bolster your child's self-esteem by praising her positive characteristics and skills, and encouraging her in the things she's good at.
Whatever you do, refrain from ridicule and threats. You are much more likely to open the doors of communication if you approach this situation with honesty, openness, and a realistic attitude. If successful communication with your teen seems like a pipe dream, you can always steer her toward a school guidance counselor, clergyman, or to Planned Parenthood. Teenagers are often willing to listen to a respected adult other than Mom or Dad.Rules
According to Carolyn Kellams, director of Keep Your Freedom, Keep Your Dreams, a San Francisco-based program that helps prevent teen pregnancy, when it comes to discipline, parents need to walk the difficult middle ground -- somewhere between too strict and too lenient. It's important to set rules and limits for your teen's well-being:
Always let your teen know the consequences of breaking the rules, and be sure to follow through on those consequences without fail.
Want more information about teen sex and tips for talking with your teen? The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has an outstanding Web site with resources for both parents and teens.