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Talking With Your Teen About Sex, Drugs, and Money

Sex continued...

Talking tips: In the olden days — back when you and I were hitting junior high — moms had The Talk with their daughters, and dads stammered a few sentences out to their sons, but that's ancient history. "The serious, planned conversations make my kids feel like they're in trouble or being preached at," says Anna Davis, a mother of three in Huntsville, AL. "Casual chats in the kitchen while supper is cooking tend to be the most open and effective." When her 16-year-old daughter recently learned that a friend had become pregnant, Davis used the event to reinforce the risks of unprotected sex in terms that would resonate with her daughter: "I emphasized that instead of having a carefree college experience, this girl will either live with her parents or she'll marry a guy she doesn't even really know."

If your teen is in a relationship, and things seem to be heating up, it's important to take an honest, adult-to-adult tone, says Ann Tiberghien, a mom of two in Atlanta. When she noticed that her then-16-year-old son was falling seriously in love for the first time, she was tempted to scream, "Don't you dare make me a grandmother!" Instead, she took an opportunity, when they were both in the car, to suggest calmly that the couple have their own talk together — before they got too hot and heavy — about how far sexually they were really prepared to go at that stage and the implications of that. "After our talk," Tiberghien says, "I realized that I no longer had a child on my hands. I had a young adult."

And help your teen rehearse ways to get out of sexually pressured situations. For girls, the best response to the classic arm-twisting line — "If you love me, you'll have sex with me" — is a firm, "I'm not ready, and if you care about me, you'll respect my wishes." For boys, who may worry that they're less experienced than their friends, point out that, no matter what they tell you, many, many other guys their age are not having sex yet, so there's no shame in holding off.

What to cover: Be clear about what you believe and the behavior you expect, says Dr. Braverman, but in a way that recognizes your child may not — or may not always — share your view. Say, "I think you're too young for the risks and the responsibilities of sex, and I want you to wait. And if and when you think you are ready to be sexually active, I want to be sure that you know you need to use birth control and protect yourself from diseases by using a condom." Reassuringly, research shows that two-thirds of teens agree with their parents' values about sexuality, but acknowledging that sexual activity is a teen's own choice leaves the door open to continued dialogue. For more information, visit the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy's Website: thenationalcampaign.org.

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