What the parent might be thinking: If I give a straight
answer, am I condoning sex for teenagers? Just what's going on, anyway? Is
there something he/she isn't telling me?
What the teen might be thinking: I really need to know the
answer, but I'm embarrassed to ask my friends. Will my parents laugh at me?
What do they know about sex anyway?
If a kid feels as if he/she can go to a parent with a sex
question in the first place, the folks are already ahead of the game, Elkind
says. "My advice to parents is to talk about it early; not just sex
education but also about puberty, because many kids at puberty don't know
what's happening to their bodies."
He also recommends using films such as "American
Beauty" or TV shows as starting points for "the talk." ("But
you also have to indicate that you're not going to do that with every movie you
watch together, or they'll never want to watch anything with you again," he
Talking about sex with kids is very important, he stresses,
because sex education in schools is highly variable and "kids have so much
bad information that comes from other kids. Kids still believe that you
get hair on your hands if you masturbate or that you don't get pregnant if you
stand up [during intercourse]. If kids believed it 50 years ago they still
believe it today," he says.
Being upfront and open about sex, no matter how difficult it is
for parents, is important.
"Tell them, 'It's a wonderful thing, a relationship between
two people who love one another, but it's going to be much more meaningful if
you wait. It takes a certain level of maturity to fully appreciate
If their hormones are driving the decision, teens may not
listen to their parents anyway, but parents at least have to make their case.
"And if kids are sexually active and you find out about it, then you have
to help them take the necessary precautions," Elkind says. "You may not
be happy about it, but you have to live with the reality of it."
He emphasizes that kids who have good relationships with their
parents and can talk openly about sex are less likely to get involved at an
early age than kids from families where talk of sex is taboo.
Originally published on February 3, 2003.