Talking to your teens about sex and sexuality can be a difficult and uncomfortable conversation for both parents and teens. However, it is extremely important to keep the lines of communication open with your adolescents so they receive good moral guidance from you as a parent and trusted care giver. Jasmine Reese, M.D., director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Specialty Clinic from Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, shares why this topic is so important.
When is the right time to start the discussion?
The recommendation is to actually start the conversation about sexuality even before your tween starts puberty. First you want to talk to your young adolescents about good decision-making regarding non-sexual matters and then over time start including sexuality in that discussion. The more open and frequently you discuss sexual matters that come up or that teens or tweens witness, the more likely they will feel comfortable in asking you as a parent about it. An easy way to start this conversation is, for example, if there are romantic gestures portrayed on television. This might be a good starting point for a parent to bring up the difference between “TV” relationships and “real-life” relationships. Let your adolescents know that media often portrays relationships differently than what is safe and realistic in person.
What are adolescents routinely exposed to in current day society?
With the growing popularity and use of the internet and the variety of platforms that allow our teens to be virtually connected to so many others, the likelihood of exposure to inappropriate sexual content is extremely high. As much as this conversation seems uncomfortable to bring up with teens, we want to make sure they are getting safe and accurate information from their parents instead of the media.
Be sure to discuss sexting and the dangers related to this. Sexting is the sending and receiving of sexual content including photos, images and/or text messages. A recent survey by healthychildren.org (American Academy of Pediatrics) reports that about 12 percent of teens ages 10-19 years old have sent a sexual photo to someone else and this can have profound legal consequences. There are also studies that suggest that this type of behavior can lead to adolescents being sexually active at a young age.
What are important topics to focus on?
It is important to teach our tweens and teens that no one has the right to pressure them to engage in any type of sexual behavior. They may be faced with strong influences from peers, television and social media throughout their adolescence and we want to help them feel empowered to say, “NO!” when they are feeling pressured.
Parents should aim to discuss some of the “normal” changes that happen during puberty, including physical body changes, hormone changes, and thoughts about sexuality. They should also remind their teens that even through all of these changes, they will love and support them no matter what. Building this type of open communication and trust with your tweens and teens will let them know they can come to you with any question, even if it’s about the uncomfortable topic of the “Birds and the Bees.”
This information was shared on WTVT-TV’s Doc on Call segment, which is aimed at helping parents learn more about children’s health issues. The segment airs each Monday morning on Good Day Tampa Bay.