Sexuality Resource Center for Parents: Tools, Tips, and Tricks for Teaching Children about Human Sexuality

Tips for Talking with Your Teen about Sexuality

(For Parents of Teenagers with Typical Development)

Want to make your conversations about sexuality more productive? Then we suggest you take the following tips to heart:

1. It's never too late to start. Although it may be easier to talk with younger children, research has shown that teenagers do listen to their parents when it comes to sexuality.

2. Choose the right time and place. Discussions go better in private and when everyone involved is in a relaxed, attentive mood. If a conversation comes up at a bad time, tell your teenager that you’d like to continue it later. And make sure you do.

3. You may have to initiate the conversation. Your teenager may not ask you directly, but that doesn't mean they don't have questions or concerns. Young people need information, and they often get a lot of wrong information. If you want your teen to get accurate information and to hear your values, then speak up.

4. Forget the "big talk." Sexuality is a huge topic and you can't cover it all in one sitting. And besides, perceptions change as children get older, and the explanation that worked when your child was ten will no longer work when your child is fifteen.

5. Look for everyday opportunities. The best way to start a discussion is to take advantage of "teachable moments," those everyday events that provide a perfect opening. If you know someone who is pregnant, talk with your teen about it. If you're watching a television show or listening to music together, figure out if the contents might spark a conversation about sexuality. Avoid the direct, head-on approach – if you ask your teen if they want to talk about sexuality, they'll probably say, "NO!"

6. Let your teen "overhear" your conversations. Your teen may be too embarrassed to discuss sexuality, but they may not mind hearing two adults discussing it. Choose a topic based on the day's news, a current television show, magazine gossip, or a movie and discuss it at the dinner table with your partner or another adult.

7. There's nothing wrong with being embarrassed, and there's nothing wrong with telling your teen that you're embarrassed. Exposing your embarrassment is preferable to letting your embarrassment silence you. Make it clear that the embarrassment belongs to you and not to your teen or the topic.

8. A book can be a great resource. Your teen may not want to discuss every aspect of sexuality with you (and vice versa), so providing a good book or other resource can ensure they’re getting information. You can also look at the book together so you and your teen are a team, confronting and reacting to what is being said in the book. Another great resource if your teen won’t talk with you: Tell your teen it’s okay to talk with a neighborhood parent whom you both know and trust.

9. You don't need to know the answer to every question. If you don't know an answer, you and your teen can make use of resources such as websites (see Additional Resources), libraries, doctors, nurses, Planned Parenthood health centers, etc.

10. If you're thrown by a question, you have the right to answer it later. Sometimes teens pose questions that we'd like to answer, but we may be so taken aback that we don't know quite how to respond. It's okay to say, "I'd like to answer that question, but I first need to think about what I want to say." Just make sure you answer the question later.

11. You have the right to pass on personal questions. Your teen needs to know your privacy standards so they can develop standards of their own. Also remember that your teen may be checking to see how much you will divulge about your personal experiences, as well as how much they can tell you about their own.

12. Simplify your responses. Strive for a conversation rather than a lecture. Sometimes we talk a lot because there’s so much we want to tell our teens! When they ask a question, respond simply and find out what more they want to know. Make sure there will be more chances to talk in the future.

13. Practice pays off. Each time you respond in a way that helps your teen learn concretely and positively, it will get easier. Try imagining the hardest question your teen could throw your way and practice answering it.

14. Be aware of your body language. Teenagers notice when our words and body language are not giving consistent messages.

15. Be patient. Expect to cover the same territory again and again, especially if they are middle school students.

16. Don't forget your sense of humor. In fact, use it to your advantage. Tell your teen about the misconceptions you had about sex when you were their age. They'll feel much better about themselves!

17. Ask your teen for their opinion. Their self-respect begins with the consideration they receive from others. 

18. Respect the importance of teenage relationships. Friendships and romantic relationships are a vital part of a teenager’s life – judgment and criticism can shut down a conversation.

Here’s an example: You may recognize that your teen is experiencing a “puppy love” kind of romance that won’t last long, but your teen may think it’s the real thing. Don’t say, “Oh, don’t worry about it – it’s just “puppy love.” It tells your teen that they know nothing about their own feelings, and it instantly ends what could have been a great conversation.

19. Support your teen as they are developing their sexual identity. It is important to let your teen know how much you love them, especially if they are questioning their sexual orientation. The most important thing they can hear from a parent is, “I love you and I will always love you.” Better yet, “I love you, and I will always respect and support who you are.”

20. Teach your teen that there is more to sexuality than having sex. Tell them about affection, trust, respect, responsibility, and intimacy, and practice the behaviors you would like them to adopt. Remember, giving information is not giving permission – it is ignorance that leads to bad decisions.


Compiled and adapted by Sexuality Resource Center for Parents.

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