Those of us who parent teenagers know they will encounter lots of issues on their way to being ‘grown up’.

While many of us may find it difficult to know what to say, we do need to grasp opportunities to talk to them about the issues they encounter.

One especially important subject to talk about is the whole area of sex and relationships – something that many parents find hard to do. That can be for a number of reasons. Perhaps we have found this a difficult area in our own lives; perhaps our parents didn’t talk to us and we don’t know what to say.

Spared a lot of heartache

Sex is usually seen by teenagers as something that is inevitable. Little is said by the media about waiting for marriage – that isn’t seen as relevant. But many teenagers could be spared a lot of heartache if they had been helped to think through some of the issues of early sexual experience.

Some teenagers who have had early sexual experience wouldn’t have done things differently, but many say they wished they had waited. They felt pushed into having sex because their friends said they should; they felt they were missing out on something ‘everyone else’ was doing.

“Many teenagers could be spared a lot of heartache if they had been helped to think through some of the issues of early sexual experience.”

The consequences of early sexual experience can be devastating – and can lead to intense feelings of guilt and shame which, in turn, can lead to loss of self-esteem. It can also result in an unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection (chlamydia is one of the most common sexually transmitted infection).

So, what can parents do to help?

1. Keep communication lines open

Although teens may appear to want to make their own decisions, they do want some input on this subject, but don’t want to appear to be asking for advice. Let them know that you are available to talk. If you find it hard to say that, write them a note and leave it on their pillow. You might want to bear in mind that they are likely to want to talk late at night just as you are going to bed!

2. Talk about sex positively

Being positive will help to give them a good start in their approach to this experience. Tell them that sex is good and that contrary to what is often said in the media, it is worth waiting for. Virginity is not something to throw away, but something to keep for that special person and especially for marriage.

3. Even if parents don’t talk to their teens, the media will

The media has lots to say about sex – magazines on the newsagents’ shelves regularly mention it. As a parent it’s worth having a look at the content of some teen magazines – you may be surprised or shocked. Magazines written for older teenagers are regularly read by 12, 13 and 14-year-olds. Check them out!

4. Be honest

Our own sexual experience is likely to colour how we talk to our teenagers. If you have had struggles in the area of sex and relationships, it can be helpful to let your kids know that. You don’t need to give them any details – that’s private to you – but it might make it easier for them to know they are not the only ones to struggle, and that you do remember what it was like to be a teenager.

5. Talk about relationships

Most teenagers will know all about the ‘nuts and bolts’ of sex – the how. It is more difficult, especially in school lessons, to talk about sex in the context of a relationship. Sex is more than romantic love. The best sex comes within a committed relationship, not a one-night stand. Knowing your partner well and being best friends before you have sex is important.

6. Know who their friends are

Make your teenagers’ friends welcome in your home. This way you know who they are spending time with.

7. Love them unconditionally

Your teenager may let you, and themselves, down, but they need to know that you love them regardless. Even if they disappoint you sometimes, don’t give up on them – they need you.

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