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Teen Minds: What Are They Thinking?

Scene 5: A teenager, boy or girl, comes to a parent with a frank question about sex.

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 says).

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 it.'"

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.


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