How do you talk about sex and prevention to your teenager?
A teenager is neither a child, nor an adult. Part of being a teenager is to allow some distance between oneself and one’s parents, to deepen relationships with one’s friends and also to develop sexually towards adulthood. Young people are interested in sex and that’s how it should be.
Pay attention to your teenager’s development. Be there for him/her in everyday life, giving the two of you time together to talk about anything under the sun, as well as allowing for silence. By keeping your ears open, you’ll be aware of what’s happening with your teenager and you’ll avoid any surprises.
Don’t assume anything about your child’s sexual orientation or sexual identity, crushes, interest in sex or sexual activity. Try instead to get a glimps into the teenager’s world by discussing things together.
Choose the time and the place
Avoid making it too rigid and formal to talk about sex and prevention. A good time to have a talk about it is in the midst of everyday life; watching a movie, cooking dinner, taking a walk together or cleaning the cellar. It should be just between you and your teenager. This talk shouldn’t take place at a family party or during a night with friends. If the time doesn’t feel right, drop the subject and try again another time.
Use language that you’re comfortable with
It’s not your job as a parent to be a sex education professional. Avoid language that you’re unfamiliar with, keep it informal but also avoid being too youthful.
Keep your limits
Having a talk about sexuality does not mean sharing your experiences with your teenager. Keep your personal experiences out of the discussion and allow him/her to do the same. Too much sharing may be confusing for both, as well as intrusive.
Your teenager has a right to his/her feelings and experiences. Respect this. Don’t belittle and don’t run roughshod over him/her. We all have things to learn when it comes to sex and everybody makes errors of judgment, even mistakes. A gentle, accepting approach is the best way forward.
Everybody develops at their own pace. Maybe it’s the wrong time to have a discussion about sexuality or the moment seems off. In any case, if your teenager refuses to talk, simply drop the subject and don’t take offence. You can try it again another time.
Get some backup material
Back up the discussion with good books, brochures or other material. Alternatively, use these instead of having a discussion. You can find material a.o. in the Väestöliitto webshop, in bookstores and libraries.
Know your way around the media
Keep abreast of your teenager’s web surfing. It’s important that you know the internet acquaintances as well as the real life friends of your teenager. Stay informed of the risks relating to the internet, so you can give advice on using the internet. Recognize also its benefits, such as easy access to information and peer support. There’s endless material on sex on the internet, direct your teenager to the safest sites, such as MLL, Finnish AIDS Council, Väestöliitto, and the young people’s sections of the SEXPO and SETA websites.
Get to know your teenager
Take a sincere interest in your teenagers likes, be curious and show appreciation for his/her skills and talents. Good feedback strengthens the young person’s self-image and inspires them to care for themselves, also when it comes to sex. Both good and bad habits have a way of rubbing off. Get to know your teenager’s circle of friends.
Make use of outside help
Good parenting also means asking for professional help when it’s needed. Direct your teenager early on to a local health care center for information on prevention and contraception. If you feel that you’re struggling as a parent or that your personal circumstances prevent you from acting in the best interests of your teenager, ask for professional help from your local family counselling services or from child welfare services.
Buy condoms to keep at home
Buy condoms to keep at home, so your teenager may familiarize him- or herself with them in peace.