by Meg Meeker, MD
It cost the Rand Corporation millions of dollars to discover this: Teens who watch too much sex on TV have too much sex and get pregnant more than kids who don't.
No surprise there.
But what is surprising is that we parents are often more embarrassed to talk about sex than our kids. We think little of pressing them about school, grades, athletics, colleges and careers, yet we dance around this elephant in every room of our homes.
I think it's because we're scared. We are filled with that dark sense that no teen, least of all our own, will listen to us. We believe if we did start talking, we would never be heard above the clamor of the hypersexualized teen culture that surrounds our kids.
We are dead wrong. Here's why -- and I have medical studies to prove each reason:
• Parents have more power to change their teens' behavior than television, or teachers
• Contrary to popular belief, teens want to know what their parents think about their having sex
• One million teens get pregnant each year
• Approx 9 million people under 25 contract a new STD each year - this constitutes an epidemic, the likes of which our country has never seen
• According to the CDC, the only way to prevent the spread of HPV which causes cervical cancer, is to help girls delay the sexual debut as long as possible and reduce the number of partners (particularly at young ages)
• 40% all 14-18 year old girls have unwanted sex because they don't want to hurt their boyfriends' feelings
Are you ready to start talking yet? If so, here are a few good places to begin.
Listen to your kids and their friends talk - don't assume they're having sex, listen to them to put your finger on the pulse of their world.
Don't treat your son like the bad kid-- no son will listen to a parent who assumes the worst of him. Remember, you're not the enemy (our toxic media culture is). Make sure he knows that.
Ask questions- ask your daughter what she thinks about sex (and then listen to her answers). Does she get tired of seeing it everywhere? Does she feel pressure to have sex?
Nice girls need a voice, so help her find hers- almost half of sensitive, compliant, people-pleasing girls don't know how to set boundaries. Make sure your daughter does. Have her practice in other areas (friendships, etc) so that she can do it when it comes to sex.
Talk up to your son- treat him as respectfully as you would a colleague. Tell him that you believe that he has every ability to make sound choices, and then reinforce this repeatedly.
Keep it simple- most parents feel they need to dive into details about contraception and sexual techniques. You don't. What your son really wants to know is what you think about him having sex at 15. If you think he should wait (and medically he should) then tell him and teach him how to put the brakes on. Tell him that exercising sexual discipline is tough but as possible as exercising the discipline regarding food, sports, academics and his temper.
Don't forget his feelings- contrary to popular belief; boys feel a lot during and after sex. In my experience older teen boys love to talk about their emotions (even more so than girls). No one addresses the hearts of boys, so do it. Tell him that sex is emotionally potent stuff; therefore it needs his attention and respect. Let him know his feelings are important to you.
Steer clear of the A-word- to some kids the word "abstinence" communicates that you are a sex-hater. You want to communicate the opposite. Tell him the truth, that sex is fabulous and that is the very reason he needs to pay attention to his sexual behavior now. Use language like "put the brakes on," or "take charge of your sexual life". Give him a positive sense of his own power. Let him know that if he messes up now, it could mess up his sex life for the next 50 years.
Laugh- although the talks are serious, try to keep them fun. This way your kids will let you revisit the topic as they grow older.
Establish yourself early on as the sex expert- even if you don't feel like one, the truth is you know more than your son does. Let him know that he'll hear peculiar things at school. Kids will say things he doesn't understand, so tell him that when he hears things, he should tell you since you can give him the right answers. When he takes you up on your offer, take a deep breath and answer simply.
What you say carries more punch than what a friend says - but your son will never tell you that. So even if you feel like in imbecile when you talk about sex, you still know more and your words resonate far deeper in him than anything his friends say (I promise).
Here's the best news of all. Anyone can do this. I know because I speak to teens across the country all the time and we have a blast. One of the most common questions they ask is why their parents won't talk to them about sex. I'm not kidding. So get going. Open your mouth and don't worry about what come out, just start. You'll have some of the best conversations you've ever had.