Is My Child Having Sex?

Advice for parents on how to talk to teens about sex, from parenting expert Jan Faull, MEd.
A young couple about to kiss

Q. My 15-year-old daughter has been dating an older boy from another school for about 6 months. Both my wife and I like the boyfriend, and of course we trust our daughter, who has always been responsible and outgoing. However, they are extremely affectionate around each other, constantly holding hands and often kissing and hugging. And my daughter has recently begun to wear shorter skirts and more revealing shirts. I'm worried about what's happening when we're not here to stop them. I'm afraid they're having sex and I think they're much too young to handle this responsibility or the consequences. How should we handle this situation?

A. You cannot leave this situation to chance. It's best to bring up the issue of premature and premarital sex, and voice your concerns. Talk of your hopes and dreams for your child's future. Explain that physical and emotional issues related to sex -- and this includes the possibility of a baby -- could ruin her future plans. If you're reluctant to bring up the topic, find someone who will. This person could be a family friend, counselor, or trusted relative.

To forbid your daughter to have sex or to deny her contraception is naive. To think that you can watch your daughter and her boyfriend at all times is unrealistic. Teens are very skilled about finding a way to satisfy their sexual urges. Let her know the message her clothing conveys; it suggests she's interested in revealing her body and possibly satisfying her sexual desires.

Telling a sexually interested or active teenager to not engage in sexual activity is like shoveling sand against the adolescent tide. Once a child goes through puberty, his or her body is equipped to procreate, and it's difficult to reverse their interest in sex once puberty takes hold.

Besides being risky physically (because of sexually transmitted diseases and the concern of pregnancy), an intimate sexual relationship is often beyond the emotional wherewithal of most teens. Most teens don't consider this when they are out to satisfy their sexual drive. You must also prepare and protect you teenager from the burden of the emotions related to a sexual relationship.

Today the attitude of many parents of teens is a "don't ask, don't tell" approach. If parents don't see signs, then it's out of the parent's mind. Such an approach is irresponsible. Every parent needs to address sexuality issues with his or her teen. Since you're seeing signs, there is no way you can let the situation alone.

Despite the need to open up dialogue with your daughter about her clothes and public displays of affection, it's important to let her know that you love her no matter what. It's not easy, particularly because your daughter might scoff or blow up at you. Bear up nevertheless. Proceed with love and determination to make your points regardless of how you fear your daughter will respond.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of two parenting books, Mommy, I Have to Go Potty and Unplugging Power Struggles. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for HealthyKids.com, and a weekly parenting advice column in The Seattle Times newspaper. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on HealthyKids.com, November 2004.

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