Your teen is quite probably sexually active. The following red flags indicate that this is the case:
- 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 signs your teen has been in the house with him/her 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.
- Your teen's schoolwork, friends, and other usual activities are being neglected.
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.
- Know who your teen is hanging out with and where.
- Enforce reasonable curfews.
- Meet your teen's friends and boyfriends. 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.
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.