Keep calm, stay collected and don’t lose it.
That’s the first thing you have to do if you suspect your teen may be sexually active, especially when it goes against the values you have taught them. While it may be extremely upsetting to learn that your teen is having sex, reacting strongly negatively will result in your teen hearing only your anger and disappointment. Before you talk to your child, give yourself space to process your feelings and sort out the messages you wish to convey to your child.
You and your spouse should come together to share your feelings honestly. Be open in articulating sadness, disappointment or even self-reproach. Support each other in keeping calm. Doing this before you speak to your teen helps you come to grips with your own feelings so you don’t take them out on your child.
Get on the same page about what you want to achieve and discuss with your spouse how you want to proceed, before approaching your teen. While it is natural to feel like the sole priority is to stop your teen’s sexual activity, expand your goals to include keeping the connection with your child and communicating your unchanging love.
This is key to truly understanding what is going on, especially if the information is coming from a third party. There is a need to learn more about what happened and how your teen is feeling about it. Asking open-ended questions ensures your child is safe yet understands the consequences of what they are doing.
During the conversation, be factual and calm. Ask them for the facts - who they did it with, how it happened and how they felt then and now. It is critical to understand decision making from their point of view.
Really listen when they start talking. The more we have a welcoming and open posture, the more information we will receive. Resist the urge to be presumptuous about their actions. Don’t automatically assume they are being rebellious. Some teens find sexual boundaries within relationships a grey zone and may genuinely not know how to handle it when someone they like initiates something sexually. Not that it should be an excuse for your teen’s actions, but it may help you to refrain from going into interrogation and blaming as you keep in mind that until your child’s brain is fully developed in their late 20s, their rational brain tends to give way to their emotional brain.
Sexual encounters are a big deal and if your teen has to process what happened alone, they may do it through the lens of the emotions they feel about the encounter, and that may not be the best thing.
A Safe Space
So while we may be grappling with a range of difficult emotions, do listen well, ask questions, but also allow them time to think and respond. Most importantly, don’t condemn them for what has happened; instead grieve together over their mistake.
Protect your connection with your child by making sure what you communicate demonstrates your love.
As parents, we are to be a safe space for our children as they navigate uncharted waters in life, especially when crisis hits.
After you’ve heard your teen out, revisit your family values and explain the why behind the what. Remember: You don’t need to agree with their choices in order to love them well but loving well entails offering the parental guidance they need, whether they choose to take it or not.
It’s good for both Dad and Mum to share their perspectives.
Some things you want to talk through is the value of their body and consent:
What does love mean? Will their boyfriend or girlfriend still love them if they stop having sex? If not, what does that mean?
Will they be okay if they break up after having had sex? What impact would that have on them?
What can we do together to help them get out of this situation?
What would help the situation to not repeat itself?
Without talking down to them, emphasise that there are consequences to sex. Sexual activity is illegal in Singapore for minors below 16 years of age. You may also want to share research that shows teenage sexual activity is linked to increased incidences of depression and suicide attempts, and a decrease in self-worth and later marital satisfaction.
Emphasise that sex is good and best within the protected boundaries of a committed marriage.
Empowering Your Child
Remain their biggest cheerleader. If they feel stuck in their situation, remind and empower them to know that they always have a choice.
If your teen is adamant that the relationship is very important to them, make the effort to know their boyfriend or girlfriend. You can ask them over for dinner and invite them to regularly join your family events. Explain that if their girlfriend or boyfriend cares about your teen, they should be happy to come and meet the family.
You don’t want your teen to feel they have to choose between family and their boy or girlfriend. Remind your child that you are on their side and continue to communicate your love for them. Choosing to remain intentional and loving will take effort – particularly when you don’t see the changes you want straightaway – but your teen is worth fighting for.
Stay the Course
Conversations about sex can be highly stressful, and your teen may initially feel worse off after talking to you. Get support from loved ones and friends when the days are tough. Parents need encouragement too!
Remain calm while talking. Remind your child that you love them and are for them. Reinforce the message that you just want to make sure they understand the implications of their choices and make decisions for the best outcomes. Stay the course in these things, and your teen is more likely to come back to you going forward, and even turn around their behaviours and lifestyle.
© 2022 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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