- Riding the Waves of Sexuality
- Riding the Waves of Romance
A whole new and enchanting world opens up to teens as sexuality and romance loom large during the adolescent years. Biological and social drives catapult teens into new sensations and experiences and they can spend a lot of time learning how to deal with the resulting emotions.
Becoming comfortable with their ‘new’ and changing adult bodies, learning to relate to the opposite sex, and forming romantic relationships are just some of the developmental tasks that teens need to accomplish before they leave adolescence and move into young adulthood. It is critical that parents play a role in helping their teens be successful in these areas.
However, for many parents, sexuality is one of the most uncomfortable subjects they face during child-rearing. Despite this hesitancy, parents need to rise to the occasion, because their teens desperately need information and guidance. Otherwise, peers may be filling in the knowledge gaps with incorrect information and questionable guidance that can lead to very risky behavior.
It is all right to dread discussions about sexuality, but parents must be willing to communicate to their children. If you don’t, your teens may not feel comfortable asking you their questions and you may be putting their health and safety at serious risk and allowing a ‘values void’ to develop.
Awkward or not, these conversations must take place. If you find that you are too embarrassed to talk about these things, you can arrange for a sibling or trusted older cousin or family friend to broach the subject; in fact, you can use these other sources to bolster what you and your child are already discussing.
You can start this aspect of your parenting journey by accepting that sexual awakening and desire is a normal and healthy part of young adolescent development, and includes curiosity and experimentation as they learn about their sexual selves.
As much as teens need information and facts about sex, what they most need is an understanding of what their parents’ values are in regard to sexuality. Helping them to achieve intimate and satisfying romantic attachments is one of the most important lessons a parent can ever teach. Developing this takes years, with repeated discussions and exposure to the concept.
Don’t assume that schools are covering all that needs to be discussed. Most school curricula is not comprehensive enough, and does not touch on the values piece that is so important in helping teens put the facts into a context with which you will be comfortable.
You will probably have little direct control over what your teen does or doesn’t do. Hopefully, though, you will have a certain amount of influence if you have maintained a positive relationship with your teen and have communicated a positive attitude about their sexual development. You will not know everything your teen does. The sexual decisions they make will be a combination of their readiness, their impulses and ability to control these impulses, and your values.
Learning about sexuality and becoming comfortable with one’s own is a process teens do with their peers and with their parents, and each of these groups of ‘mentors’ plays a different role in the teens’ developing sexual maturity.
Talking to Teens about Sex: Conversations about values and the facts of life.
“The Talk” is best if it is really an on-going dialogue of thousands of mini-talks, which can occur as situations arise in everyday life: for example, when your teen tells you something about a friend of his, when you are watching television or a movie together, when listening to the lyrics in his songs, or when there is some relevant issue in the news.
Express your values and your pragmatic concerns and allow your child to share his perspective. Often parents address worst case scenarios, such as pregnancy or disease, but leave out the more important task of mentoring their teens on the broader issues of sexuality and laying a foundation of healthy sexual values.
Some of these broader issues can include:
- Exposing the double standard – young girls are more regretful about their sexual experiences and more likely to shoulder negative consequences. Girls more often fuse love and sex which bodes trouble for them. Often the consequences for girls for sexual activity are much more severe than those for boys.
- Letting both boys and girls hear messages that sex is good, a pleasure meant to last a lifetime, but one that demands caution.
- Teaching respect for women. What restrains a boy is having respect for a girl as a human being, and this is learned most strongly at home by how the father treats his wife and vice versa.
- Encouraging girls’self-respect and respect for their body, letting them know that they should not have to give in to a boy’s sexual demands in order to maintain a relationship; that any boy who makes such demands does not care for her as he should.
- Defining what it is to be a real man and real woman. Fathers can model what real men do – they work, nurture people and help at home. The same is true for mothers. So girls and boys both see a balanced view of adult relationships and responsibilities.
- Helping teens examine their thoughts about sexual activity. Issues you can bring up include:
- personal motives – “Am I just doing this so he won’t break up with me?”
- the pull of peer pressure – “Everyone else is doing it and I want to be part of the group.”
- possible drawbacks – “Will I feel guilty afterwards?” “What will I think of myself?”
- social ramifications – “What if he tells his friends?” “Will my friends think less of me?”
- ethical, religious, and family value considerations – “Should I wait until I am married” “or older” or “in a committed relationship?”
Illusions about Adolescent “Lust”
- That teens today are more sexually aware and savvy than we were at their age. They actually still need concrete, specific information in plain language. Use exact words in a straightforward fashion.
- That my teen is not experimenting sexually. Sexual experimentation is part and parcel of growing up; almost all adolescents engage in some sort of sexual behavior so parents who think, “not my daughter, not my son,” are not facing the realities of their adolescent’s experience and developmental tasks.
Parents can bring up a dialogue by using “I” Messages: “I am concerned, and want to make sure you have the information you need to make good decisions.”
- That the media will cancel out my efforts to guide my children, so why should I try?
Rather than be discouraged, parents need to exert even more effort to guide their children so that their teens can get sexuality into realistic perspective.
They need a reality check so that they understand that what they see in the media is not what is really going on among typical, real-life ordinary people.
- That talking about sex gives permission or puts the idea to have sex in a young teen’s mind. Actually, the truth is they are already thinking about it.
Exposure to education has been shown to influence young adolescents to delay sex and to make sexual activity lower-risk. Sex education is not suggestive; it is valuable and urgent. Talking about sex does give kids permission to talk about sex. Discussions enable them to explore mentally. They can:
- process facts and attitudes
- think about things ahead of time so they are not thinking for the first time about what to do in the heat of the moment
- they can have strategies worked out in advance
If you are too uncomfortable to initiate a discussion, you can use a book as a jumping off point. As Dr. Ruth Westheimer has said, “teach kids everything, and then encourage them to wait.”
- That preaching abstinence is wasting your breath. Actually, abstinence is the advice and policy choice endorsed by almost all sex education experts. It needs to be defined and presented positively, giving room for experimenting in safe and appropriate ways.
Make a logical case for postponing intercourse – it can be dangerous (STD’s, HIV), there may be negative emotional reactions such as jealousy, embarrassment, insecurity, heartbreak, and there can be social consequences such as damage to reputation, unkind rumors and loss of friends.
- That young adolescents cannot refrain from impulsive decision-making. It is wrong to assume that a young adolescent cannot make a sound decision in the romantic clinches. Actually, teens are capable if they are shown how and encouraged to think in advance about what they want to do.
To do this, they need strategies and skills to help them deal with difficult situations. In order to teach sexual restraint and ethics, parents need to convey that having a desire is natural and fine, but having such an impulse is not reason enough to satisfy it. You can:
- tell your teens to avoid isolated places, and drugs and alcohol.
- help them to practice arguments against sexual involvement.
- help your daughter assert herself without alienating her boyfriend.
- teach your daughter to understand what dress, behaviors, and situations might be misinterpreted by boys as being seductive or “teasing.”
- That boys do not need as much sexual coaching as girls. In reality, boys need sexual guidance as much as girls: for example, about understanding girls, what is appropriate in terms of not exploiting every sexual opportunity, and about respecting girls.
They need to be taught that sexual assault is a crime and that consent should never be assumed. Misunderstandings that boys sometimes have include thinking that:
- provocative clothing is an open invitation for sexual advances. Actually, young teen girls are simply getting accustomed to their womanly charms and they do not necessarily understand what they may be communicating to boys.
- if the girl does not stop him, that is consent from her to “go all the way” Boys need to understand that “no means no.” Actually, he needs to hear a clear, absolute, affirmative, out-loud ‘yes’ and then still refrain. Silence does not mean ‘yes.’
Tips for Guiding Your Children to Develop Healthy Attitudes about Sex and Sexuality
One of the most difficult jobs of being a parent is to nurture your child as he finds his sexual identity and to teach sexual restraint and ethics while not scaring the child or creating negative attitudes about sexual intimacy. Here are some tips you can use so that your talks are effective:
- You can be the one to start conversations, before your child raises the issue, using all the opportunities you can find to set a casual tone, without interrogating.
- Have short talks, not marathons. Be on the lookout for clues that your teen has had enough and stop for the time being; allow him to set the pace.
- Make sure you give your teens the opportunity to express their thoughts and ask their questions.
- Help your teen decide on his/her own to postpone sex; don’t demand it. Mandating may push them in the opposite direction. It is much more effective to help him consider all the issues, practical ones as well as your values and hopes and wishes for him.
- Role play with your teen about how to avoid or get out of difficult situations in which he/she might feel pressured.
- Tell your sons what sex means to girls and tell your daughters what sex means to boys. Help them to understand the different perspectives so they can take the other person’s needs into account.
- It is best to talk about pregnancy and disease risks when something comes up in everyday life, so that it doesn’t feel like a lecture and so names and faces can be attached to the facts.
- Remember that research has shown that discussing contraception tends to postpone a teen’s first intercourse as well as to reduce high-risk behavior.
Teens need to have information that is value-free, about anatomy, birth control, safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases as well as romantic relationships and their emotional and social consequences. But the topic of sex is not value-free and some of your conversations with your teen should not be either.
As well as objective information, they need to know where you stand on the subject and what your opinions are so you can guide them and influence them as they make their decisions. An important thing to remember is that no matter what happens, your teen needs to know that you love him unconditionally and that your love is greater than everyone’s anxiety and judgments about the issue of sexuality.
Riding the Waves of Romance
Parents can have “relationship talks,” dialogues about romantic issues with their young teens. The best formula for success is to focus on maintaining your relationship with your teen rather than demanding and mandating any particular behavior.
If possible, negotiate the rules in advance together with your teen, before he is smitten. Using the many opportunities as they arise in everyday life to broach these topics concerning relationships can help you to avoid the lectures and platitudes that teens can tune out with great ease.
Try to remove the intrigue of romance during these discussions; look at them as opportunities to help him decide what limits he would like to set for dating so he can maintain balance in his life. Stay neutral – nothing flames teen love like having it be forbidden. Don’t laugh at your teen about the seriousness of his romance – to him, it is very serious and sincere.
Teens need conversations about relationships.
Some topics that you can raise are:
What makes you find him so attractive?
- Teach your teen to analyze and judge romantic character. Being drawn to another person is mystical and magical, but there is more to choosing a boyfriend or girlfriend than that first rush of excitement.
- Ask for specific character traits or behavior that they appreciate about the person.
- Bringing this kind of detail and understanding to romantic selection will teach your child how to make informed decisions and will eventually lead to thoughtful and compatible choices.
What is your idea of a perfect night out with a date?
- Help your child to make a connection between dating and fun; this may lead to him questioning a relationship lacking in mutual enjoyment.
Why is that boy or that girl so popular?
- Considering this question can give your teen tools that can help her to draw conclusions about the ramifications of certain character traits and behaviors in their peer culture, to evaluate the values implied in these, and to bolster their own sense of identity and how they want to be seen by their peers.
- What do they think about kids who are too accommodating? who are too sexually available? who are kind and considerate?
- This is a method for identifying assets, motives and vulnerabilities in peers, and it can help them to establish their own values.
How many ways are there to say “I love you”?
- Teens need to digest the fact that love does not always mean sex, and sex does not always imply love.
- They need to learn alternatives ways to convey their compelling, overwhelming feelings of attraction to someone.
- Through this conversation, you will be helping your child to develop intimacy skills by showing him that expressing emotion takes many forms.
- Over time, he will understand that sharing a secret, giving a gift, offering a shoulder to cry on, listening, encouraging and applauding successes, or planning a good time are all legitimate and important ways to care for another person.
What would you do for love?
- If you hear that a friend of your teen has given up being with his peers because of a new relationship with a girl, you can ask your teen how much he would sacrifice, gamble, forfeit for a relationship.
- It is critical to teach your children to recognize self-sabotage or abuse in relationships since these often begin in these early relationships.
Using less personal examples, such as a friend’s experience or a television show makes it less threatening to a teen and more likely that he will engage in a conversation.
Benefits of Teenage Romance
Despite the potential downfalls of these adolescent relationships, teens gain many benefits from these experiences. It is important to keep in mind that being attracted to someone and having those signals reciprocated is a wonderful and intense experience, one that is magical and memorable for teens.
Such romantic relationships add to a teen’s emotional development in many ways:
- They provide a teenager with an intimate best friend and meet their increasing need for friendship and intimacy.
- They provide a superb opportunity for emotional growth in your teen: they develop empathy and sensitivity, learn to handle disclosure and honor privacy, experience sacrificing for someone they care about – all of this serves as a rehearsal for mature love and marriage.
- Since teens become concerned about, in fact somewhat obsessed with, another person’s well-being, their previous egocentricity is diminished.
- Having a boyfriend or girlfriend can be a huge confidence-builder: they think: ‘here is someone I admire, who admires me in return. So I must be an admirable and good person!”
As you discuss these issues, remember that although teens are not aware of this at the time, almost all early adolescent love affairs are destined to lead to break ups because boys and girls are at cross-purposes psychologically at this point of development.
Females define themselves by their attachments; loving someone makes a girl feel like a woman. Boys, on the other hand, are engaged in the task of separating themselves from mothers and from females who mirror that loving bond; leaving someone makes a boy feel like a man.
However, telling your teen these things while they are in the midst of their intense romantic relationship will be met with scorn and adamant denial – their parents, after all, have no idea what they are feeling and have never themselves experienced such a magical and perfect relationship!
A break-up of such an intense relationship can be traumatic for a teen, and often is more difficult when there has been a history of abandonment in the teen’s life. Teens need to re-organize their lives, since during the course of the relationship, it had been such a dominant aspect of their lives.
- They may need to patch relationships with friends who they cast off during the intensity of the relationship, and they once again begin to spend more time with their friends.
- His personal identity, which had become somewhat fused with the significant other, now has to be re-formed and the teen needs to answer the question again “Who am I?” now that he is no longer a part of a couple.
- After the break-up, teens need gentle understanding from their family, even if they don’t want to discuss the relationship directly. They need to know their family supports them and is there for them, while not pressing them to talk, just like an adult experiencing a failed marriage would require.
Much of the material in this article is from:
The Rollercoaster Years by Charlene Giannetti and Margaret Sagarese
Uncommon Sense for Parents with Teenagers by Michael Riera
Yes, Your Teen is Crazy! by Michael Bradley
For more information about raising a teen, check out the following books. Purchasing from Amazon.com through our website supports the work we do to help parents do the best job they can to raise their children.
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