Good news -- all the signs indicate that it's only puppy love and that your teen is not yet sexually active.Communication
Nevertheless, if you haven't yet had "the talk" with your teen, it's best to do it now, before puppy love turns into something semi-serious and sexual. According to parenting expert Jan Faull, M.Ed., communication about the birds and bees should ideally occur long before the teen years, with age-appropriate discussions starting by age 6, and in-depth information provided between the ages of 10 and 12, when kids are more receptive to parental influence. The earlier you lay the groundwork for your child's conscience and controls in the bedroom, the better.
Still, it's not too late to try to open the doors of communication. Address the basic facts -- unwanted pregnancy, HIV, STDs, and contraception -- but also delve below the surface and talk about the equally-important but often-neglected emotional issues, such as the emotional consequences of sex, how to handle the pressure to be sexually active, how to say no or know when you're ready to say yes, and how casual sex can harm self-esteem. Discussing sex and relationships in-depth does not, as some parents fear, mean that you're giving your teen the green light to be sexually active. Rather, it gives you a chance to share your morals and beliefs, whether they focus around abstaining until marriage or making responsible, sober choices in the bedroom.
Whatever you do, don't let embarrassment get in the way of having "the talk." You might want to start the conversation by admitting how uncomfortable you feel about it -- this can help ease the discomfort and put you and your teen on an honest, equal footing. Remember that for teens, the puppy love they are experiencing is neither silly nor fleeting -- it feels real and deep. If you ridicule your child's emotions or dismiss the relationship, you will only hurt your chances of communication now and in the future.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:
- Know who your teen is hanging out with and where.
- Enforce reasonable curfews.
- Meet your teen's friends and dates. Invite them over.
- Don't agree to co-ed sleepovers, camping trips, or other events that you think could place your teen in a sexual situation.
Always let your teen know the consequences of breaking the rules, and be sure to follow through on those consequences without fail.Resources
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.