I know this topic is something most parents would rather not think about until their teen is much, much older. Maybe even wait until their teen is married with kids of their own. I'm being a bit tongue-in-cheek, but you get my gist. However, today's sexual culture is alive and scary, even if many want to pretend otherwise.
Think about it this way: Who is preparing your teen if you are not? Someone is talking to them, even if it is not you. Maybe it's other teens or the Internet. Makes you stop for a moment, doesn't it? Did your heart skip a beat?
When many parents think of the sexual culture, they often think about it as being prevalent on college campuses, but what about high school and middle school campuses? It's there folks, even in middle school. Just ask our wonderful educators, many of whom are reading this email.
With this topic, even the most seasoned parents can suddenly feel a rush of panic. "Oh no!" Suddenly, approaching your child feels scary. "What will I say?" "Have they been kissed?" "Are they having sex?" "Do they know how to protect themselves?" "Are they ready for sex?" "Are they ready to date?" "Will they honor their boundaries and their partner's boundaries?"
Simply because your teenager is growing up, you typically spend less and less time with them while their friends and outside circle of influence become more and more important. If you have college-age kids, you might not talk to them not only every day, but maybe not even every week.
How do you prepare your teenager?
Start by being honest about what they are likely to see, giving good and bad examples. Instead of lecturing, focus on the opportunities they are going to have for making exciting decisions (some easier than others).
While this conversation can be serious, you can also make it engaging. Ask what dating advice they have received or have even "heard" through the grapevine. Share some of the crazy advice you received when you were their age. This is an enlightening way to discuss how friends can share well-intentioned, but very misguided, suggestions such as:
• How to impress your date.
• How to play the dating game.
Impressing Your Date:
On this topic, you can give your teenager the following pointers:
• Don't try to impress your dating partner. Trying to impress other people leads to misleading behavior from you. Be the same person whom we know and love.
• By acting differently, you are not being your authentic self.
Playing the Dating Game:
Try explaining this topic to your teenager as follows:
In a game, you have two competitors going against each other. Both competitors are trying to win at the other competitor's cost. A great competitor does everything to play directly against the opponent's weakness. Turning a date into a game is a bad decision.
Engaging Your Teen:
Try this as a family: Write down more ways friends can be bad influences on your student's dating life. Then work as a family to decide how your child can best decide how to block out those negative influences.
I share this and many more ideas in my book Can I Kiss You?--A Thought-Provoking Look at Relationships, Intimacy, and Sexual Assault.
Here are five tips you can give your teen so they can add these decision-making tools to their arsenal and use them, even when you as a parent are no longer physically there!
1. Choose whom you want and whom you don't want to hang out with. You never owe anyone your time.
2. Choose whom you want to be sexually intimate with and/or don't want to be sexually intimate with.
3. Know that no one has the right to violate your boundaries -- ever. You always deserve a choice!
4. Know that an incapacitated person (through drugs, alcohol, or other means) deserves to be treated with dignity and respect -- just as all human beings do. Remember, you also deserve to be treated with dignity and respect (regardless of what choices you make along your journey).
5. I will always be here for you. Always. While I know it can be normal not to want to disappoint one's parents and/or to feel like parents might be judging you, know our love for your overrules everything -- always!
Congrats as you help your teen navigate today's sexual culture. With your help, they will be better prepared to engage in mutually amazing relationships! Exciting times are ahead!
To help you further navigate the waters of teen dating, download "The 7 Biggest Mistakes Caring Parents Make When Talking to Their Teens about Sex, Dating and Decision Making."
President & Founder
The DATE SAFE Project