Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Having a teenager in the house is difficult; having a teenage girl can be an outright nightmare. As a mother who has made it through the difficult teenage years, I can definitely key in to how difficult it is to talk to a daughter about her entrance into teenage dating and the subject of sexuality and health. Sons are similar, but no less important! Just because they don't get pregnant doesn't mean they don't need sex education to protect themselves from becoming fathers before they are ready, or worse getting a disease they may have to live with for the rest of their lives.
When you talk to your child, don't think you have to 'wait' to have a big talk when they are a certain age! Children usually start asking questions early, some at age three or four, and they need age-appropriate answers that give them information they can understand. I don't advise calling body parts by nicknames or slang terms, nor do I suggest avoiding any questions. If your child asks where babies come from, you can answer that they come from inside the mother's body. With the internet available, you can do as I did and show your child pictures of a fetus developing inside the mother's womb. My daughter found this fascinating, and marveled at the child growing from a 'tadpole' into a 'real baby'! That was enough for her at age four, and when she got older, about eight, she asked how that baby got there and our talks became a bit more detailed. The point was to give her the information she wanted without overloading her.
When the conversation got around to actually explaining sex, I first explained that her body is something to be proud of, and to take care of. She is an individual, and deserves respect and love from anyone she dates or decides to become involved with. I also explained that sexual activity does not necessarily have to happen in a married relationship for it to be important, she can choose to be a virgin until she is married if she wants, or until she is older and feels ready for such an important step, but that to make that decision lightly is foolish. I explained to her that her emotional well-being is as important as her physical health, and she shouldn’t do anything sexual with anyone before she feels ready, and to never be pressured into any activity.
I then pointed out the importance of using proper contraceptives, the risks of STI’s and HIV, and stress that condoms are an absolute necessity every time. Then I would also point out that condoms do not protect you from all venereal diseases, such as herpes and vaginal warts, so there is no truly ‘safe sex’, there is only ‘safer sex’. So before she decides to make that decision to do something so personal with someone, she should think twice and make sure that this young man is someone whom she is seriously committed to and who is committed to her. Also, she should think about the company she keeps, as girls who run around with friends who are sexually active are more likely to become sexually active early as well, so the adage “Birds of a feather flock together” does apply in this case.
I explained to her that now that she is older, she will have more temptations on the horizon, and it is my job as her mother to help her navigate through this time safely. I will be making sure she has the right guidance to hopefully keep her on the straight and narrow, and there is always an ‘open door policy’ when it comes to talking about situations that happen or questions. My main goal is to keep her safe and healthy, and make it through the tough teen years without undue stress or an unplanned pregnancy or STD. Believe it or not, continually stressing that she could talk to me about ANYTHING without judgement, and get guidance helped her not only come to me when she was upset or confused, but to this day she brings her friends to me when they have problems, telling them 'My mom is cool and she knows a lot of stuff, you can trust her to know what to do.' That tells me I did something right. Don't think I didn't do my fair share of chastising her when she did something stupid, I just didn't dwell on it forever, I made her understand that if you do it once, it was a mistake, do it twice and you're an idiot! LOL
Maintaining good boundaries and curfews, knowing where your teen is and what activities she is participating in are important at this time. Keeping the lines of communication open as much as possible (which is often difficult) is important, although you will be the evil mother and then the shoulder to cry on, depending on the time of day or day of the week. Being present and active with your child, and letting her know that no matter how evil she is or moody she becomes, you are always there helps her get through those teen years. Somehow, as mothers we survive it too.
Don't be naive as a parent. Whether you have a daughter or son, there comes a time that they are going to start thinking about becoming involved with someone and sex is going to be on the agenda. You need to keep the dialogue open, and it needs to be in a healthy way, not an accusatory or threatening manner. When my daughter began dating her first serious boyfriend, we had a really healthy manner of talking about her relationship with him, and she also told me about her friends and their relationships as well. I probably knew more about her friends relationships than their parents did. I also knew some of them were having sex on a regular basis and not always using protection. Now I had a dilemma, do I approach the parents of another teen and try to talk to them about their child's sexuality? If I had done so, I would have broken the trusting relationship I had with my daughter, her friendship with those kids would have been lost, and most likely nothing would have been accomplished. So I did something a bit unconventional. I set a small basket in MY bathroom with condoms in it. I never said a word about it, not to my daughter, not to anyone. My daughter heard me talk all the time about safe sex, and I always told her that it was better to be safe than sorry and she should encourage her friends, since she cared about them, to practice safe sex. So I began noticing those condoms disappearing, slowly. I never said a word, I just kept replacing them, keeping that basket filled.
Years later, quite a few of her friends have visited our home from college, and thanked me for that basket, hidden behind the decorative towels on my sink. They told me that my daughter would slip them to them, or when they came to visit she would tell them to get one or two to put in their purse 'just in case'. They said without being able to have access to them without embarrassment, they might have gotten into trouble and ended up pregnant or sick because they were too young to know better. These were girls...not boys. Everyone thinks that the boys should be responsible for getting and keeping condoms, but it doesn't always happen. Teenage boys aren't known for thinking ahead, especially when it comes to sex, and girls are much better planners when it comes to these matters, so if you don't feel comfortable handing your daughter condoms 'just in case', then do like I did, just make them discreetly available. Remember, you aren't condoning anything, you are just not sticking your head in the sand and ending up a grandparent before you're ready or having a child with HIV or some other STI that needs treatment.
I don't advocate teenagers having sex. I am not telling you to either. I would much prefer that they wait until they are at least eighteen, or married. I'd like them to wait until they are in committed, loving relationships before they do anything so serious and intimate, but I know that there are teens out there everyday who make these decisions without my approval or yours. So if they decide not to listen to all our advise and go ahead and do what they please, the least we can do is give them the knowledge and protection they need to keep from harming themselves and one another! Oh, and just because your child is a straight A student, comes in before curfew, cheerleader or involved in all the right activities and dating the 'nice boy', don't think they aren't capable of doing the very same things all the other kids are! I have heard and talked to those very same stereotypes and was shocked at just how far they go in their secretive lives that no adults know about. Protect your children.
Good Mental and Physical Health to You and Yours!