I found condoms in my 15-year-old son's room. I had been concerned that he was smoking pot, but I never expected to find condoms. I was shocked! Should I say something? I don't think I can pretend I didn't find them and I also think he's too young to be having sex!
I don't think any parent is prepared for the discovery that their son or daughter (who they can still easily picture in diapers) is sexually active. While most of us struggle to come to terms with our children moving toward adulthood -- whether it's suddenly refusing to kiss us goodbye when we drop them off for school or finding out that they are experimenting with pot -- the notion that our baby could actually be making a baby probably hits the hardest.
I would agree that a 15-year-old is too young to be ready for everything that comes with being sexually active. While there are some parents who will choose to ignore the discovery of condoms in their son's room, there are other options that will help your son make healthy decisions about this important part of his life.
• At 15, your son has a developmental imperative to pull away from you and become his own person. He is wired to resist unwanted advice, even if it's in his best interest. If you approach him in a confrontational way, you're not likely to influence his behavior. On the contrary, he will feel resistant, defiant, and likely do more of the very thing you're trying to forbid.
• Approach him in a way that emphasizes that you're an ally, rather than an adversary. Avoid barging into his room with, "You're in big trouble young man!" Instead, establish a friendly climate by doing something that feels safe to you both and treats him as a young adult rather than a child -- perhaps listening to a band he likes or looking through one of his favorite photography books if that's one of his passions.
• When the connection you have with your son is healthy and caring, you will be better positioned to have what will probably be a difficult conversation about the sexual phase of life at which he's arrived. If he has a girlfriend, you might open with something like, "How's it going with Andrea?" If he simply answers, "fine," avoid being pushy or peppering him with questions. Make a comment or two that feels harmless, and if he hasn't clammed up (be prepared for the fact that talking with a parent about a girlfriend can be very awkward), ask him if he'd be willing to hear your two minute "safe sex" talk.
• If he doesn't have a girlfriend that you're aware of, broach the subject by asking, "So, how's it going with girls? Anyone catch your eye?" (Of course, if you're aware that your son is gay, you will ask him the same questions about boys.) "I'm feeling like I need to just say two or three things about sex, given how fast you're growing up. Think you can handle that?" The more you come alongside, rather than at him, with input and lighten the mood, the more likely he'll accept your invitation to talk, even if he's reluctant and embarrassed.
• If he absolutely shuts down and says, "I don't want to talk about it! Jeez!,"don't force the issue. Think big picture: Talking to kids about sex, from the earliest ages, is a series of conversations. While your son is at a crucial juncture, your best chance of influencing him to be safe and responsible is to first help him feel receptive to your guidance.
• If your son is willing to let you share your thoughts, you might say something like this: "I'm pretty sure that sooner than later, you're going to want to have sex with someone. It's normal to want that, and, there's a lot to think about. Are you being safe, in terms of STDs? (Discuss what that means, and what he needs to do to ensure both of their safety.) Do you understand that condoms can break and that being sexually active means possibly getting a girl pregnant? Do you feel prepared to handle what that would mean? Are you aware that when people have sex, hormones are released -- especially powerful ones for girls -- that generate attachment? In other words, while it might be something fun for you, there are big emotions that come into play when you decide to be physically intimate with another person."
You cannot ensure that your son won't be sexually active, but you -- or a trusted friend -- can offer important guidance as he takes on this very adult part of life. Rather than attempting to control his sexual behavior or trying to punish him for having condoms (which, by the way, at least suggests that he's being safe), focus on making sure he has someone responsible and caring that he can turn to -- ideally a man -- for support and guidance. While an ideal outcome would be that he move more slowly, the most important thing you can do is to make sure that he has information that will help him make good decisions, both for himself and for his partner.
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Parent Coach, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed marriage and family therapist and credentialed teacher. 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.