A few weeks ago I was teaching a parent workshop at a local high school. As I was sharing some statistics about the numbers of teenagers engaging in sexual activity, a father interrupted me with a question, “How do I know if my daughter is doing these things? Is there a way to tell?” I thought for a moment. Unfortunately, there are very few signs to let a parent know if their child is involved in sexual activity. Here are a few (rather blunt) examples:
1. Hickies or a disheveled appearance after a night out. (If you see it, say something.)
2. If your teen has been a social drinker, smoked, or has used drugs – negative behaviors come in clumps.
3. If your teen spends time with friends that you think may be sexually active, or engaged in one of these other risky behaviors – your teen could be influenced.
4. If your teen spends a great deal of time away from your house, is left in the house unsupervised before you get home from work, or chooses to be locked away in a bedroom or basement with a friend of the opposite sex when they “hang out.”
Those may seem obvious, parents, but they’re worth stating. Don’t be afraid to address these points with your teen.
But the best way to know if your teenager has become sexually active is to ask him or her outright. Use a non-accusatory, open ended question: “I heard a story about a girl today who… What do you think about that? Have you experienced any of that?” Getting a straight answer from your teenager requires that you build the foundation first. If your teen is used to you asking open ended questions that encourage dialogue, he or she has a better chance of answering all your questions honestly. When it comes time to ask about sex, hopefully his habit will stick. It’s best to start early. Parents, as you are forming the value of honesty in your children, be aware of your own tendency to fib or lie. We know kids mimic what they see.
Sometimes, however, despite your best efforts, your teens will still lie when faced with such a question. It’s not because you haven’t done a good job raising them. Their lying has more to do with their development – and wanting things their way – than it does with your parenting. This article states that tweens lie in order to grow in independence. They gloss over details, and occasionally like to pull a fast one on their parents to “see if they can get away with it.” A second article says that older teenagers often lie to avoid getting caught – but we all knew that. The best way to respond when you think or know they are lying is to ask why. If parents come at teens wanting to reason, it may open up a path for communication. Instant lecture will close it down.
Overall, parents, if you want to know what your teenagers are doing with the opposite sex – be involved in their lives. Know their friends, and their friends families. Be aware of their extracurricular activities. Be around, and available to help them reach goals.