It seems that when it comes to sex, what teens crave is information. And you’ll never guess who they are looking to for it. According to a People Magazine/NBC News poll of teens ages 13 to 16, more than 70 percent of teens said they get information about sex from their parents. (They are listening!) But parents may not be doing as much talking as they think. While 85 percent of parents said they talk to their teens frequently about sex, only 41 percent of teens said the same. If they’re hungry for knowledge, don’t you want to make sure it comes from you?
Creating the right atmosphere is essential. While it’s good to teach your values about sex, don’t make it all about guilt and fear. The idea of a "Promise Ring" as a parent’s tool for prolonging their child’s virginity is one that I find most disturbing. The concept of the Promise Ring is this: Parents give their teen a ring to wear in place of a wedding band as a sign of their commitment to abstain from sex until marriage. The ring is a sort of bargain between parent and child that anything beyond kissing and hugging will be saved for the wedding night. I think it’s a bargain that comes with many serious costs — especially for the teen.
A Promise Ring can create less communication instead of more. What if the teen is like any other developing, hot-blooded adolescent and goes further than kissing during a sexual encounter? In addition to the feelings he or she would normally be experiencing, a lot of guilt is heaped on top. And it’s likely to happen, at least once. We know from the research on abstinence education and abstinence pledges that while Promise Rings often delay a sexual encounter, most of the teens not only eventually break their promise, but don’t know what to do to protect themselves once they do. Imagine how a teenage girl who’s been wearing her parents’ promise ring feels in this situation. You can bet she keeps it on, because to take it off would mean overtly admitting she failed and let her parents down. Instead of growing into her sexuality in an empowered and healthy way, she ends up living a lie. Fear and shame are intertwined with her sense of sexuality. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to simply turn off those emotions, even when in the context of a loving, committed relationship later on. I see the fallout of this daily at my clinic.
Since every parent’s ultimate goal is a happy, healthy child with happy, healthy relationships — the right approach to sex is an essential. You want your legacy to be one of happiness, not discord in which your child is battling against his or her sexual feelings and instincts.
What can you do to make it go more smoothly? Create an atmosphere of trust and respect, in which your child feels comfortable confiding in you. Answer questions factually, while also conveying your values if it’s an issue you feel strongly about. Most of all, listen. While your teen wants to hear what you have to say, they also want to feel like their experience is acknowledged.
It’s always better to deal with reality when it concerns your child’s development. Sex is no different. Making yourself a safe source of information that is free of guilt empowers your kids to feel good about themselves, their bodies, and their ability to make wise decisions. Qualities like those protect your teen more than any ring ever will.