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Discussing sex and birth control with your teen

Elizabeth Weiss McGolerick is a freelance writer and editor who contributes regularly to SheKnows, MintLife, AOL, iVillage and other sites. In her articles, Elizabeth covers a variety of subjects including relationships, pregnancy, paren...

Sex talk

Reality shows such as 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom are showing the truth about what can happen to teenagers who don’t know the facts about birth control and sex. The best thing you can do is get involved and talk to your children about preventing pregnancy -- even if the thought of it makes you squirm.

Mom and teen discussing birth control

Sex is a part of life, and the simple fact is that many teens are becoming sexually active sooner rather than later, often without their parents' awareness. The wisest thing a parent can do is arm her teen with knowledge about making the right decisions, avoiding peer pressure and protecting herself from pregnancy and STDs.

Alarming teen pregnancy statistics

According to The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, three out of 10 teenage girls in the United States get pregnant at least once before the age of 20; that adds up to almost 750,000 teen pregnancies annually.

While shows like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom do not glamorize teenage pregnancy, no parents can trust that such programming will serve as effective birth control for their sons or daughters. Peer pressure and a desire to fit in can incite teenagers to do just about anything. And teens do tend to think that pregnancy "can't happen to them." Read more about myths involving sex, pregnancy and protection.

Start a dialogue

Some adults have a tough time discussing their sex lives with each other, let alone with their own teenagers. But if you want your child to be smart about sexual choices, you have to guide him in the right direction. Don't assume he's scared celibate by stats about teen pregnancy or STDs.

Whether you have a daughter or son, an informed discussion about birth control is something every parent should undertake. Though talking about sex inevitably involves an "ick factor," think of this like any other important subject you cover with your child. Set clear expectations for her and open the door for honest, two-way communication.

Listen twice as much as you talk. "Instead of focusing on what you want to tell your teen, focus on learning what they want to talk about," says psychotherapist Eddie Reece, who also offers these additional tips:

  • Invite a conversation rather than insist on one. Start the conversation with something like, "If you ever have any questions about birth control, I'd be happy to answer them or help you find the answer if I don't know."
  • Have an ongoing conversation. Don't just have "the talk." Keep talking.
  • Name what's in the room. Feeling super-uncomfortable? Admit it. "It takes the pressure off of wanting to come across like you're totally comfortable when you're not," says Reece. Start with, "This is awkward for me, but I want you to know I'm available to talk to you about birth control."
  • Relate to your teen's technological savvy. Offer websites as a way to initiate the sex and birth control discussions. StayTeen.org has teen-friendly info about sex, dating, relationships and pregnancy, and the Department of Health and Human Services offers a Teen Talk flyer. Handing over the info isn't the end of it, though. "It's an invitation, remember?" says Reece. "Wait. Be patient. It may take a few days, but if you don't hear back, then follow up."

If there's no time to be patient about a sex and birth control discussion, or if you suspect your angst-ridden, tight-lipped teen may already be sexually active, Reece recommends not forcing the issue. "It can be a struggle for parents to let go of their belief that if they don't push, the teen will make a mistake. I can pretty much guarantee that if they push, the teen will do the opposite of what the parents want," he says. But you shouldn't ignore the situation, either. If you and your teen have a history of struggling with difficult conversations, Reece recommends therapy to address past hurts and teach a different way to communicate.

Next up: Birth control options for teens >>

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