My daughter has been with her boyfriend for about a year. They are nearly 16, and she tells me they haven't had sex -- yet. I want her to confide in me, but my sister got pregnant when she was a teenager so it's hard to hear that my daughter is even thinking about being sexual. What can I do to help her make good decisions without making it seem like I approve of them having sex?
Teens who find themselves facing an unexpected pregnancy are usually shocked that this kind of thing could happen to them; in their minds, those sorts of things only happen to other people. I cannot emphasize how valuable it is for them to know they can turn to us for guidance, even when we find it difficult to hear what's on their mind.
If you lecture, judge, or scold your daughter, she probably won't be receptive to your input. Saying things like, "I don't think it's a good idea for you guys have sex," or "You're running the risk of getting 'into trouble' just like your auntie", are likely to close her down.
For thousands of years, human beings have shared lessons and values by telling stories stories. Spend time with your daughter, inviting her to tell you some of the things she's going through in her life. Avoid jumping in with advice or suggestions if she ventures into territory that might concern you. If you've listened to her respectfully she will be more open to hearing what you have to share.
Describe what happened with your sister (with her permission) or someone else who ventured too quickly into becoming sexually active. Talk about the circumstances that led to the unplanned pregnancy, emphasizing whatever led her to think that an unexpected pregnancy "couldn't happen to me." Address the challenge of wanting to be pursued, or your sister's fear that if she didn't have sex she would lose her boyfriend.
Most importantly, speak in a way that lets your daughter know that you understand the pressures and pulls that might make her want to begin a sexual relationship with her boyfriend. Encourage her to take her time, paying close attention to whether her boyfriend is respecting her choices. If you're sure that it is inevitable that she is going to become sexually active, help her become educated about STDs and birth control; looking the other way does not make a difficult situation disappear.
She is young, and becoming sexual is an enormous life decision. Far better that she can lean on you for support as she navigates such complicated terrain than that she tries to figure this out all alone.
By letting your daughter know that you are committed to being a willing ear to help her untangle some of life's difficult decisions, she will rely on you for advice that helps her have a wonderful life.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.