Your teen is in a semi-serious relationship. Don't panic -- but do stay alert to the following red flags indicating that your teen's relationship is going from semi-serious to very serious-and possibly sexual:
- Your teen and his/her friend increasingly spend time alone instead of in groups.
- They can't keep their hands off each other, even around you.
- There are tell-tale signs your teen has been in the house with his/her friend while you were gone.
- Your teen constantly inquires about your whereabouts and your schedule.
- Your teen is growing ever more secretive about his/her activities and distancing him/herself from you.
- Your teen shows a sudden interest in washing his/her own clothes and sheets.
- Your teen daughter has recurring bladder infections, pain in the lower abdomen that needs to be treated with antibiotics, or yeast infections (which can be caused by antibiotic treatment).
- Your teen frequently wants to go to co-ed sleepovers.
- You find condoms or other birth control paraphernalia in his/her room.
- His/her schoolwork, friends, and other usual activities are being neglected.
If your teen is in a semi-serious relationship and you have not yet had "the talk," there's no time to lose! Parenting expert Jan Faull, M.Ed., says that 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.
Still, it's not too late to try to open the doors of communication with your teen. First, address the basic facts -- unwanted pregnancy, HIV, STDs, and contraception. Then, 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 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 having it -- this can help ease the discomfort and put you and your teen on an honest, equal footing. Remember, though your teen's love relationship may strike you as superficial or fleeting, it feels very real and deep to her. If you ridicule her emotions or dismiss her relationship as nothing more than puppy love, you will only hurt your chances of communicating with her 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.