When parents find that their teen has become sexually active, reactions may differ and fall anywhere between dealing with it and sheer panic. What can you do in this situation that will protect both your teen and your parent-child bond?
For starters, your response will most likely depend on many things, such as:
- Your relationship with and how you are able to talk to your teen
- Your child’s age and the age of her partner
- The nature of their sexual actions
- Your beliefs and values
- How your spouse/partner reacts
- How the other teen’s parents respond
Other variables may also change the way you respond. Don’t bury your head in the sand and hope it will turn out fine.
Talk and listen
No matter how you found out the truth or what feelings you have, you have to talk to your teen about it. Before you do, get your emotions under control. If you scream at him or make threats, will that change anything? Not likely. Calm down and set some time to talk with your teen. You and your partner should agree on what approach you will take. When you meet with your teen, make your best effort to:
- Share your concerns honestly, but without judging her.
- Listen, also without judging.
- Don’t force him to talk.
- Talk about the risks of sexual behavior such as an unplanned baby and disease. Don’t use threats. Ask if she has thought about what might happen if she gets pregnant.
- Go over safe sex practices.
It’s OK to tell him you’re hurt. That you’d hoped he’d wait, and be a “kid” a little longer. The fact is, you can’t undo this—it’s done. Where you go from here affects your relationship as your teen becomes an adult. Think about telling her that, even though you’re sad about this, you hope she knows she can always talk to you about every part of her life.
Share your values
In talking with your teen, don’t be afraid to share your values. If you think teens are too young to be sexually active, say so! Be ready to answer the question, “Why?” Choose your words carefully. Sex isn’t dirty or wrong. Talk about emotional maturity and how special sexual closeness is for adults. You might even choose to make clear why you regret having sex early, if that applies.
If you believe that sex out of wedlock is immoral, condemning your teen isn’t the right approach. As your teen grows, he will have to sort out the spiritual questions for himself. What you can do is calmly, lovingly say why you think waiting for marriage is best for a person emotionally, physically and spiritually.
The next steps
After that first talk, then what? Psychotherapist Mike Garcia advises that you keep the lines of communication open. “Focus more on the relationship you have with your teen, rather than his behavior. He needs you to be active and available as he continues to grow through a confusing and complex stage of life,” says Garcia. That does not mean you have to approve of her behavior or make it easy for her to continue. You and your partner will need to work out the details, but you can set limits such as:
- Where they can go and how much time they can spend together
- Either no hanging out in the bedroom or only when you are home and with the door open
These limits may seem too harsh or too easy—you know your teen best. Just work on accepting that you cannot control your teen—and that he will need more and more freedom as he matures. You also might find these tips helpful:
- Get to know the person your teen is dating, as well as her parents.
- Talk to other parents who have been through this.
- Think back to your own teenage years, the choices you made that your parents didn’t like, and how far you have come.
You may wonder what to do if, after the talks and rule-setting you learn that your son or daughter is still sexually active. Talk and listen. Share your concerns without trying to control her. If your teen is sexually active, you may want to make sure that he is practicing safe sex. Some parents choose to give condoms, pay for birth control pills, etc. Others aren’t able to go that far, but the topic of birth control needs to be talked about if they are having sex.
You will all survive this. Garcia encourages you to “Try to see beyond what this means to you and get to know your child better.”