It’s not a topic that we are itching to discuss with our children as they begin to age, and there’s certainly enough controversy around even discussing the topic at all, but the truth is, kids will learn about sex and birth control from one source or another. Originally I learned how babies were made from a book, later in my early teens, the majority of my information came from my friends. Teenage friends are not a very reliable source of information for just about anything, especially not topics such as birth control and sexual responsibility. Teaching teenagers about birth control ultimately falls on the parents’ shoulders.
The conservative parent believes that if they never speak to their children about these matters, their children won’t engage in such behaviors. This is about as serious as a gamble as laying a year’s salary down at the roulette tables. Maybe you’re right, and maybe you’re wrong. Are the consequences worth being wrong? Sexual responsibility is a very important part of young adulthood. While the most responsible sexual act is definitely abstinence, if your teenager chooses a different path, knowing the importance of protecting themselves can change the entire course, and length, of their life.
Pregnancy is only one consequence of unprotected sex. While HIV is the most strongly talked about sexually transmitted disease, there are still a host of others out there that can seriously impact a young woman’s ability to have children later on, or a young man’s overall health, or God forbid, your daughter’s life. Talking with kids about sexual responsibility once meant discussing the potential for pregnancy and a few diseases that the doctor could help them control. Now it’s about a life threatening disease that will prevent them from fully realizing their potential. In that perspective, a few minutes of discomfort is certainly worth urging them to be safe out in the world.
Just because you speak to them today doesn’t mean that they are going to run out tomorrow and try it, but it does mean that you placed the seed in their head that has time to flourish and grow into a reality that will help to keep them safe.
Kids are just as uncomfortable talking about sex and sexual responsibility as their parents. They expect a lecture with blushing faces and a basic discussion similar to what they expect from the gym teacher during sex ed class. Why not flip it up on them a little? Why not allow them to do some of the talking? Ask them what their friends are doing, who they know that is sexually active, what they think about it, their views on abortion, or if they know anyone with HIV. The answers you get may very well surprise you. Kids don’t listen to sexual responsibility lectures any more intently than they do lectures on cleaning their room, grades, or homework. Teenagers tend to respond best when they are heard, and their view points are discussed like an adult’s. Talking to your kids about sexual responsibility also means talking with them about what they think. They are a separate entity from you, thus they are likely to have a few different view points.
If there’s a choice, which parent talks to the teenager about sexual responsibility may impact how well the discussion goes. It doesn’t have to be gender oriented, although sometimes that can help. If there’s a parent in the house that tends to be really uptight and gets really emotional about things quickly, perhaps the more relaxed and easy going parent should step up for the sex talks. If one parent tends to be very conservative while the other is a little more liberal, a teenager might feel braver about the talk if the liberal parent approaches them about sexual responsibility.
Discussing sexual responsibility doesn’t have to happen all in one big show. Tune into the pop star news a little bit and you’ll have ample opportunity to discuss values, sexual responsibility, and drugs and alcohol with your kid every day. Often approaching the conversation from a third party aspect and then personalizing it can bring a teenager around into a more agreeable conversation. Discussing someone else’s behavior as well as your own can ease tension and create a more relaxed and open conversation.
No matter how you choose to approach the conversation, the conversation needs to be approached. Your teenager will learn these things (most of them before they hit their teens) but their sources may be questionable. The best thing to do is to talk to your teenager honestly, and often, and hope they hear you loud enough to be responsible out there in the big adult world they are begging to be a part of. Teaching teenagers about birth control is just one more step in launching them into responsible adulthood.