Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

How to have “The Talk” with your teen

Previously I have written about having ‘The Talk’ with your child, from toddlers to eight year olds. This post is all about having ‘The Talk’ with your teen.

The way that you respond when your child asks about sex will determine whether they grow up with a sex-positive outlook or a sex-negative outlook.

It is your job as a parent to ensure your child has a balanced, comprehensive view of sex and sexuality. It is also vital that YOU are your child’s primary source of information about sex – that way, you can influence how they feel about themselves and their bodies before they are influenced by their friends and the media.

Talking to your teen about sex WON’T encourage them to have sex!

So many parents are worried that speaking to their kids about sex will actually encourage them to have sex. Believe me, hiding information from them will not shield them from other influences such as movies, friends and older siblings.

Talking to your teen about sex, laying a solid foundation, and building a balanced viewpoint about sex and sexuality helps them make informed decisions.

Talking about sex with your child from an early age will help open up communication when your child reaches their teenage years.

Ages 8-12 is a very important phase in your child’s development

THIS is where the changes really begin, and where it is so important for your child to feel comfortable speaking to you about sex and sexuality.

As a starting point, you child should understand that, as human beings, we are made up of four main parts:

  1. Physical – What we can see, feel, hear and touch
  2. Spiritual – Our religion or spiritual beliefs
  3. Mental – Our thoughts and understanding of the world
  4. Emotional – Our feelings

Each of these four parts works together influencing our day-to-day interactions with the world.

Your teen should also understand that as they reach puberty, their bodies will begin to change. Males and females develop at different rates but in general, their bodies will become hairier, they will get pimples, their sexual organs will change, and they will experience mood swings related to hormones.

Here are some tips on what to say, and how to say it.

How to speak to your teen about sex:

Girls

When she begins to grow breasts, your daughter my feel awkward and may realise that boys begin acting differently towards her. Explain that this is normal, and that their reaction should not be taken personally.

When girls begin menstruating, it is important that dads don’t tease them about being moody and having ‘PMS’. They are already hormonal and sensitive and being teased about something like that will only turn it into a negative experience.

Make sure that you talk to your daughter about her period before she gets it so that she knows what is happening to her when she sees blood for the first time. Talk to her about the different options that she can use including pads and tampons, and allow her to make her own decision about which she prefers. Teach her about proper disposal of the items too (you can’t flush your pads down the toilet!)

In my practice, I am often surprised to find out how little women actually know about their own vaginas. Encourage your daughter to look at her own vagina in the mirror – give her a diagram of all the parts so that she can recognise them and feel comfortable with her own body.

Boys

It is important that you teach your son to understand and express his emotions. So often in my practice, I see men who aren’t able to identify their emotions, or explain how they are feeling when they are upset. Men need to be allowed to express themselves emotionally as well as physically and mentally.

As he reaches puberty, your son will begin to have wet dreams. In my practice, I tell parents to teach their sons how to use the washing machine so that they can take their sheets off their beds themselves, and they don’t have to be embarrassed about explaining things to their mother. This is a very normal part of growing up, and wet dreams are going to happen whether they like it or not.

Moms are usually horrified to find that their sons start masturbating in their teens. “Not my son!” they say to me. But this is very normal, and you should let your son know that it is fine so long as it is done in private.

Physical response to sexual stimuli – Just because you feel ready, doesn’t mean you ARE ready

Teach your teen that both boys and girls will experience a physical response to sexual stimuli (such as kissing). He may get an erection, she may feel her vagina get wet.

HOWEVER, they do need to know that just because their body reacts to the stimuli, it doesn’t mean they are ready to have sex.

This is also a good time to talk about the potential risks when it comes to sex. Not just HIV, but the risk of contracting other sexually transmitted infections, as well as pregnancy.

Make sure you talk to your teen about contraception as well as abstinence.

Also, make sure that they understand that sex does not equal love. No matter how much someone is pressuring them to have sex to ‘prove’ their love.

Boyfriends and girlfriends

Every parent dreads the day their child brings home a love interest. This brings about a whole new level of communication and rules – should you allow them to be alone in a room together? How late should they be allowed to stay out? What level of physical affection should you allow them to display in public?

All of these things should be discussed between you and your teen. Make sure they know what the boundaries are, and that they respect them.

Sexual orientation

This is an incredibly complex issue, and one which many parents and their teens struggle to come to terms with.

I have counselled many people who were too afraid to ‘come out’ to their parents because of the negative way in which their parents spoke about gay or lesbian couples.

If you feel like your child may be struggling to identify their sexual orientation, and you don’t know how to handle it, I suggest that you both seek counselling together to work through the process in a way that ensures your parent-child relationship remains intact.

Invest in your child’s future

Every parent wants the best for their children, and for them to grow up into functional adults with healthy relationships.

Speaking to your child about sex and relationships will help ensure that they know what to look for in their future relationships. They need to know how to show respect, and to walk away when they are not being respected.

Even though it’s sometimes one of the most difficult things you can do, parents play a vital role in educating their teens about sex.

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Take a look at this excellent letter written by author Cynthia Parker, to her daughter:

Dear Kelsey,

I know what you are thinking as you roll your eyes and shake your head, “Here she goes again…telling me something I already know or something that she thinks is so important for me to hear.” You are right. We probably have talked about it before and we will talk about it again, because I know that you and your friends are always talking about it. And it is important for you to hear how I feel, so just hear me out one more time. I only have this conversation with you because I love you so much.

I know that the pressures from your friends – to smoke, to drink, to try drugs, to have sex – are intense. I know that you have been listening to me all these years, with all the talks we’ve had. But they have you more hours of the day than I do. You hear their opinions more than you hear mine. So, I worry. It is only because you are important to me.

I want you to respect yourself. You have value beyond your imagination. There isn’t a man alive that is worthy of your value, but some day you will settle for one that comes close and I can accept that. In the mean time, beware of all those who flash their smiles and use pretty words to turn your head. They believe that flattery will get them everywhere; prove them wrong.

I realize that they will make you think that they won’t ever ask you out again if you don’t do what they ask, but if that is the truth, then you are better off without them. When they pressure you to have sex, they are only thinking of themselves and the urges of their bodies. They are not thinking of you, your future, their future. They are only thinking of the moment. Respect yourself and say, “No.”

They may not ask you out again, but I can promise you this – they will look at you as you walk by and know that you are not easy and that you value yourself. A part of them will know that there is no point in asking you out, because you have proven that you are too good for them.

Do not “settle” for any man. Make yourself a list of all the qualities that are important to you in a boyfriend. No quality is too big or too small. Let these be the things that you dream about, the qualities that would make you feel special, loved.

Place that list somewhere special – in your jewelry box, tucked in the back of your diary – and whenever you meet someone and you think that he is “the one”, compare him to that list. If you find that there are qualities that he does not possess, do not settle.

Of course, there are always exceptions. If we are talking about the one that says, “Doesn’t mind watching chic flicks at the movies.” then you can settle. If we are talking about the one that says, “Never pressures me to drink”, there is no room to settle!] He may seem oh-so-perfect, but that one quality may be the one that you just cannot live without. Let him down easy and move on. You deserve to find the one that will complement you perfectly and who will value you completely.

Do not accept insulting, humiliating, or demeaning behavior from anyone that claims to “love” you. We do enough things in our life to embarrass ourselves. Those who love us should be trying to protect us from such pain, not trying to bring it upon us. If they use you at any time to get a laugh from others, they are not worthy of your company.

Ditch them! Likewise, do not endure verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. In the event that anyone should try to subject you to such behavior, find someone you trust and ask for help immediately! It is difficult to remove yourself from someone who has gained any amount of control over you by abuse.

However, once you have stood up and asked for help – from a parent, a guidance counselor, a teacher, a friend, an authority figure – then the path of escape becomes clear and is much easier to travel since you are not going it alone. Do not tie yourself to an abuser. Allow those who you know love you to help you escape.

Finally, sex is not love. You are not going to “prove your love” with sex. The line, “If you love me you’ll have sex with me” is a lie! Sex is not going to make you worthy, or loved, or valuable. You already are worthy, lovable, and valuable.

When you find the one that sees that without putting strings upon it, you will find out that sex is not the main course, but rather the icing on the cake. Save it for a special time with a special person who has already proved their love for you in other ways. Commitment proves love. Fidelity proves love. Honesty and respect prove love. Sex is in no way a qualifier for love.

I know, your friends are meeting you at the mall in fifteen minutes and you have to go. I am just happy that we had this little bit of time together. Be safe; you girls stick together and don’t talk to strangers.  Be home for dinner. And rest assured, we will have this talk again some day soon.

I love you, sweetheart.

Mom