Talking to teens about sexuality
It takes bravery and honesty to talk to teens about sexuality. A psychologist advises.
For parents, teachers and health care practitioners, the challenge is to address the health issues of young people in a sensitive and comprehensive manner.

Educate teens about all options. Discuss the benefits of abstinence and the variety and differing protection levels of today's contraception methods. It is true that abstinence is the only foolproof contraception, but it is important to note that teens that have already been sexually active might see themselves as failures if abstinence is the only message they hear. Sharing all of the options, and their risks, helps teens make educated decisions about sexuality.

Listen... really listen.
Listening provides an excellent method to gather information about the adolescent. Listening helps you understand what they already know and how accurate their information is. Provide your full attention and share your understanding of the issue being discussed.

Show genuine interest.
Let teens know that you care and are really interested in talking. If topics are difficult to come up with in the beginning, have a hat full of topics, and draw one. Topics might include contraception, dating, HIV/AIDS, and pregnancy, as well as euthanasia, divorce, academic goals, or family plans. Conversation need not always focus on the teens' specific experiences. Exchanging attitudes, values, and concerns is also important.

Accept the teens' values. An hour sermon on beliefs, values, and morals is not necessary. It is often taken for granted that teens understand what motivates the actions of adults, and their own.

Be honest. If it is honesty that you want from another person, then it is important that  you practice personal honesty. Are you unaware of the latest and greatest in current contraceptive methods? Don't pretend to know everything. Cooperative learning is a great tool. Get pamphlets, videos, and other sources of information and learn together.

Allow the teens to be the expert when and where appropriate. There are some issues that are unique to current society and your location, whether urban, suburban, or rural. For example, just as clothing and music have changed over the years, so have dating rituals. Let teens know that you are interested in what the dating scene is like now. What places are "in"? What are attitudes about group dates, double dates, and dating alone? What are the current criteria for going steady? Is the phrase, "going steady" still used? Having teens in your life provides you with a unique opportunity to keep up on the latest trends, including fashion, music.

Parental education and involvement:

Love, empathy, respect, trust and commitment are the most important values a parent should incorporate when discussing sex with the child. Parents are their children's role models, and they learn respect, trust, and emotional commitment within the family. Parents can and should be the most influential source in their children's lives in regard to how they behave sexually and socially. Unfortunately, too often it's the media and peers that are the influential sources. Parents need to help their children understand and make
sense of this influx of mixed messages.

Parents should take advantage of everyday teaching opportunities. Regular discussions from an early age about the true meaning of love and how relationships and commitment evolve should be shared with the child. Learning about these qualities, what they mean, what they represent and how to recognize them will give the child a more value-laden indication of sexuality.

This article is an extract from an academic paper on Sexual behaviour in adolescence.

Advice supplied by the Bella Vida Centre.

How should parents broach the subject of sex with teens?

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