The Perspective

Approaching the birds and the bees with today’s teens

On a good day talking to your teenager about the weather can be difficult, so having a conversation with him or her about sex, birth control and STDs may seem nearly impossible.

And it’s not just talking you need to consider. The way you behave is just as important as the words you use. For example, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that teens and parents both agree that parents’ attitude is the most influential in determining a teen’s sexual behavior. So, verbal or non-verbal, you are sending a message to your teen whether you know it or not.

Making good decisions

Lisa Chase, health educator in the health district’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (TPPP), states that the goal for most parents when talking to teens about sex is to protect them and provide the right information to make the best decisions. However, parents are often hindered by two things:

  1. They often don’t know what to say or how to say it.
  2. They believe that if they talk to their child about sex, then their teen will automatically engage in that activity.

Your teen may be walking around in an almost adult body, but you still want to protect him or her from the harsh realities of life, decisions that could negatively impact the course of his or her life, and mistakes you made when you were young.

You might even think that by sheltering your teen from the big bad wolf, he or she will not be approached in the woods. But the opposite is true: by arming your teen with reliable, concrete information, he or she will become better equipped to make informed choices when confronted with a difficult decision.

To help you approach difficult subjects with your teen, Chase offers some suggestions.

  • Take time to consider your personal values about sex. How did you form those values? Do they still resonate with you?
  • How do you model those values to your child(ren) in everyday life? What messages are you sending without saying a word? Do you practice what you preach?
  • Research sex-related topics by going online or to the library. Use creditable sources, take time to look into opinions that are different than your own, and learn common misconceptions. Most likely you will learn something new and maybe even bust a myth of your own.

Teachable moments

Chase also suggests that instead of making the “talk” feel big and daunting for both parent and child, try using the “teachable moments” approach. These are everyday moments when your child expresses an opinion or asks a question that naturally leads to a hot topic. To be effective with teens on these topics, parents should expect to have an ongoing chain of conversations linked by these teachable moments.

Whether your son is commenting on a young girl’s g-string showing above her jeans or your daughter sings the lyrics to a song about suicide and drugs, you can use the situation to engage in a conversation to allow your child to safely express his or her opinion about the topic, be able to share your own values and offer some guidance with credible information.

Another approach is to become an “askable” parent, which means your teen sees you as approachable and open to questions.

While you may want to be this type of parent, you might find it difficult. Advocates for Youth, a national initiative that promotes sexual health programs for teens, suggests being prepared with as much factual information as possible, and after evaluating your own values, talk with your child, which means you listen more than you speak. And perhaps the best advice: don’t worry about being embarrassed because your teen will most likely feel embarrassed too. Don’t worry about not having all of the answers either; it’s OK to say that you don’t know.

Resources for parents

If you’re still struggling, there are resources available for both parents and teens to help prepare them for tough decisions. For example, the health district’s TPPP hosts free classes for teens to learn about sexually transmitted diseases; pregnancy; refusal and negotiation skills; abstinence; and birth control. “One of the greatest benefits is when teens end the course armed with questions to ask their parents,” states Chase.

The Southern Nevada Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition also conducts workshops for parents in English and Spanish on an as-needed basis. For information on workshops and class schedules, visit the Sexual Health Education webpage.

If you prefer to take the challenge head-on, there are many online resources devoted to helping parents. The Advocates for Youth website has an entire section titled “Parents’ Sex Ed Center: Parents don’t have to go it alone” with volumes of information geared to arm parents with factual information about changing bodies and functions, guidelines about your approach to the various subjects, advice from parenting experts and other valuable information for parents as sex educators.

When you thoughtfully approach the topic of sex with your teen, you have the opportunity to provide valuable guidance, accurate information and support. But perhaps most importantly, you may establish an avenue for more meaningful conversations with your teenager, which leads to a healthier and closer relationship.

The Southern Nevada Health District offers birth control services for teens. For clinic information, visit the Family Planning Clinic webpage or call (702) 759-0894. Teens may also visit for information about safe sex.

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