HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

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Sex Education and Your Adolescent

Sex education basics may be covered in health class, but adolescents might not hear or understand everything they need to know to make tough choices about sex. That's where parents come in. Awkward as it may be, sex education is your responsibility. By reinforcing and supplementing what your adolescent learns in school, you can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy sexuality.

If parents wait for the perfect moment to discuss sexual issues, they may miss the best opportunities. Instead, think of sex education as an ongoing conversation. Here are some ideas to help you get started and keep the discussion going:
  1. Clearly state your feelings about specific issues (e.g., oral sex, intercourse). Present the risks objectively, including emotional pain, sexually transmitted infections, and unplanned pregnancy. Explain that oral sex isn't a risk-free alternative to intercourse.
  2. If you're uncomfortable, say so — but explain that it's important to keep talking. If you don't know how to answer your adolescent's questions, offer to find the answers or look them up together.
  3. Don't lecture your adolescent or rely on scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. Instead, listen carefully. Understand your adolescent's pressures, challenges and concerns.
  4. Let your adolescent know that it's OK to talk with you about sex whenever he or she has questions or concerns. Reward questions by saying, "I'm glad you came to me about this."
  5. Your adolescent needs accurate information about sex, but it's just as important to talk about feelings, attitudes and values. Examine questions of ethics and responsibility in the context of your personal or religious beliefs.
  6. When a television program or music video raises issues about responsible sexual behavior, use it as a springboard for discussion. Remember that everyday moments (e.g., riding in the car, putting away groceries, etc.) sometimes offer the best opportunities to talk.

Sex education for adolescents includes abstinence, date rape, homosexuality and other tough topics. Be prepared for questions like these:

What if my friend wants to have sex, but I don't? Explain that no one should have sex out of a sense of obligation or fear. Any form of forced sex is rape, whether the perpetrator is a stranger or someone your adolescent has been dating. Impress upon your adolescent that no always means no. Emphasize that alcohol and drugs impair judgment and reduce inhibitions, leading to situations in which date rape is more likely to occur.

What if I think I'm homosexual? Many adolescents wonder at some point whether they're gay or bisexual. Help your adolescent understand that he or she is just beginning to explore sexual attraction. These feelings may change as time goes on. Above all, however, let your adolescent know that you love him or her unconditionally. Praise your adolescent for sharing his or her feelings.

How will I know I'm ready for sex? Various factors (e.g., peer pressure, curiosity, loneliness, etc.) steer some adolescents into early sexual activity. But there's no rush. Remind your adolescent that it's OK to wait. Sexual activity is for mature adults. In the meantime, there are many other ways to express affection (e.g., intimate talks, long walks, holding hands, listening to music, dancing, kissing, touching, hugging, etc.).

Adolescents and grown-ups are often unaware of how regularly dating violence occurs, so it is important to get the facts and share them with your adolescent. Moms and dads also should be alert to warning signs that an adolescent may be a victim of dating violence, such as:
  • Suspicious bruises, scratches or other injuries
  • Loss of interest in school or activities that were once enjoyable
  • Fearfulness around their dating partner
  • Excusing their dating partner's behavior
  • Avoidance of friends and social events
  • Alcohol or drug use

Adolescents who are abusive toward their partners are at risk of legal problems as well as emotional consequences. If they don't get help, these adolescents often develop lifelong patterns of unhealthy, unhappy relationships.

The lessons adolescents learn today about respect, healthy relationships, and what is right or wrong will carry over into their future relationships. Therefore, it's important to talk with your adolescent about what does and doesn't constitute a healthy relationship.

If your adolescent becomes sexually active (whether you think he or she is ready or not), keep the conversation going. State your feelings openly and honestly. Remind your adolescent that you expect him or her to take sex and the associated responsibilities seriously. Stress the importance of safe sex, and make sure your adolescent understands how to get and use contraception.

Your adolescent's physician can help, too. A routine checkup can give your adolescent the opportunity to address sexual activity and other behaviors in a supportive, confidential atmosphere — as well as learn about contraception and safe sex. The physician may also stress the importance of routine human papillomavirus vaccination to help prevent genital warts and cervical cancer.

With your support, your adolescent can emerge into a sexually responsible grown-up. Be honest and speak from the heart. Don't be discouraged if your adolescent doesn't seem interested in what you have to say about sex. Say it anyway. Studies show that adolescents whose moms and dads talk openly about sex are more responsible in their sexual behavior.

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