Teens in the United States are having sex at younger ages and with more partners than ever before, and teens are also less likely to practice safe sex than adults, according to Psychologist Sheila Kamen, PsyD. With the upcoming return of MTV's popular reality show "Teen Mom," teenage pregnancy is at the forefront of not only parent minds, but also pop culture.
Kids In The House interviewed experts to reveal, in three stages, the number one thing parents should do when raising a potentially sexually active teen.
1. Before Your Teen Has Sex: Talk About It!
Former teen mom Aaliyah Noble says that she thinks it is a good thing that mainstream media has used reality television to bring teen pregnancy to the public's attention, because it at least gets the conversation started. "A lot of [teens] become parents because they don't have enough information," says Noble. However, she challenges the portrayal of reality within these shows and believes that "TV shows that glamorize teenage pregnancy should take the time to step back and focus on the issues that [teens] face: not being able to go to the prom, not being able to hang out with their friends and not being able to have enough money to take care of the needs of their child."
Many "stars" of the famous "16 and Pregnant" or "Teen Mom: OG" television shows have been heightened to celebrity status. Just the term "OG" alone gives a certain reverence to these moms by calling them "original gangsters." Additionally, many of these women cover magazines and make paid appearances, perhaps sending teens the message that having a child at a young age can lead to fame and fortune. It is important to have an honest conversation about what teen pregnancy might be like so that your teen gets a realistic portrayal and does not simply rely on popular television shows to get information.
Before your teen starts having sex, it is important to have an honest conversation about what he or she is feeling and what the serious repercussions of having sex are. UCLA Neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel, MD,, urges parents to "talk openly with your child about what sexuality means."
The conversation at this stage might include talking about hormones, physical changes and internal changes your teen is facing.
2. When you discover your teen is having sex: Talk About It!
Discovering your child is sexually active is one of the hardest things any parent can experience. Many parents are shocked that their "little one" has managed to keep sexual activity a secret, while others resort to anger and frustration. Relationship expert Wendy Walsh, PhD, says that upon discovering your teen is having sex, parents need to calm down and communicate now more than ever before. Dr. Walsh says, "The most important thing to happen is to find out if they have enough knowledge to keep themselves safe." She adds, "Without being judgmental, you want to make sure they're armed with all the adult information they need." This way, if your teenager does continue to have sex, either with or without you knowing, he or she will at least be encouraged to be as safe as possible.
The conversation at this stage may include informing your child about safe-sex practices and preventing STDs. It may also include explaining to your child the difference between physical sex and emotional love as well as confronting the emotional and physical complications sex may have already introduced.
3. If your teen is pregnant: Talk About It!
If you are the parent of a pregnant teenager, this is the stage in which your family needs communication the most. Pattie Mallette, who gave birth when she was a teenager to now-pop star Justin Bieber, says that what teen parents need most is support. "There are so many amazing programs. There's even support groups you can join," says Mallette. In such programs teens are encouraged to keep alive the conversation about both the trials and tribulations of teenage parenthood.
Since teenagers are not fully matured adults, they might also need help navigating different issues while pregnant than adults do. "They need different information," says Aaliyah Noble. They will need guidance on immunization, circumcision, and perhaps even feelings of insecurity with their bodies, breastfeeding, and more.
The conversation at this stage may include dealing with physical and hormonal changes that your teen undergoes during pregnancy. It may also include helping your teen through his or her relationship as a single parent or partner.
Raising a maturing teen and navigating new sexual activity or pregnancy isn't easy. However, if you start the conversation early and often then your teenager will be informed, you will strengthen your familial bond, and your teenager will feel supported no matter what.