Kids And Sex: What To Do If Your Child Thinks She's Ready -- And You Don't Agree

11/16/2011 10:05 am ET | Updated Nov 18, 2011

Dear Susan,

My daughter is in the 8th grade and is boy-crazy like all her friends. She has had a crush on a boy in 9th grade for three months and finally he began to pay attention to her, texting back and forth a lot and talking with her at night. She is convinced they are in love and has just told me that he thinks they should prove their love by having sex. What should I do? I don't think she's ready to have sex with this boy.

Concerned Mom

Dear Mom,

I'm very glad to read that your daughter is so open with you; congratulate yourself that she knows she can come to you for guidance. I'm also glad that you haven't lost your head. Your daughter is far too young -- as is her "relationship" -- to be ready for the emotional fallout of becoming sexual. Here's my advice:

1. Keep your daughter talking and feeling safe to lean on you for guidance. If you react harshly by forbidding her to see her "boyfriend" (let's call him John), she may simply become sneaky and, at his urging, do things behind your back.

What you might say: "I'm glad you told me about what John proposed, and that you know you can come to me to figure out what to do. It's a big decision that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Let's talk about it."

2. Let her know that it's perfectly normal to be attracted to this boy (and vice versa). Validate her concerns about wanting to make him happy; she may be terribly insecure, and fearful about losing him if she doesn't do what he asks.

What you might say: "I know you really like John, and I can imagine you're afraid of disappointing him, especially if he thinks that being sexual will 'prove' your commitment. It can be scary to think that if you don't do what he asks he might not want to be with you. And you may also want to have sex, and find out what that's all about."

3. Discuss what it means to be sexually active. Explain that it's not simply a physical act, but one that has deep emotional ramifications.

What you might say: "You only get one time -- in your whole life -- to have a 'first time.' That's it. As tempting as it is to make John that lucky guy, it takes a lot of commitment and love to make it special. Your emotions are going to get stirred up in a way you can't imagine, making you want to be even more connected. Girls release a hormone called Oxytocin that makes them want to bond or attach strongly to their partner when they have sex. Think about how you would feel if, after having sex, John stopped paying attention to you, or told you he didn't love you anymore. Would you be glad you'd had sex with him so early into the relationship, or would you feel sad that you'd given him something so precious, before really being ready?"

4. Keep tabs on your daughter. Invite John for dinner rather than having her go out alone with him. Stay involved in her life so she has other things occupying her attention. Make it clear that you're happy to keep talking this over, but that if you get the sense that she's making poor decisions, you will become more involved. Mostly, let her know how special she is. By boosting her confidence, you'll help her feel comfortable saying, "I'm not ready, John. I hope you care enough about me to wait."

Your daughter -- like many kids her age -- is up against enormous peer pressure to be sexually active before she is ready. While you ultimately can't guarantee she won't become sexually active, there are many things you can do to make it more likely that she waits. Offer your support and guidance, and help her understand the tremendous impact of becoming sexual. Explain that whoever does become her "first" will need to be a very special guy who cherishes her feelings and knows how lucky he is to be with her. And make sure she understands that if John really loves her, he will refuse to pressure her to do things she isn't ready to do.

Yours in parenting support,

Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.