by Amy Smith
As your child grows through the teenage years, they will find themselves romantically attracted to a special someone. From the basics of human reproduction to observing the romantic relationships of others, to eventually experiencing a relationship of their own, teens need information, guidance, and reassurance about what to expect, how to build a healthy and safe relationship, and what boundaries are necessary and appropriate. How do you talk to an anxious teen about the complicated but important subjects of romance and sex, set appropriate boundaries, and still keep the conversation open and relaxed?
Your Boundaries and Theirs
Before kicking off a conversation with your teen about the facts of life, it’s important for you to know your own mind. Your values — cultural, religious, ethical, hygienic — are an integral part of how you view sex, romance, and marriage. If you’re unsure of what you want to teach your teen, that uncertainty will make it difficult for you to communicate. Have a parents-only conversation first to clarify what you both want for your child, and to define where the lines of appropriate behavior will be drawn in your family. Then you might want to brush up on the basics of human reproduction. It’s been a while since you learned all this, and you may be surprised at what you don’t know yourself — or don’t quite know how to explain. Your kid will have questions at many points through the teenage years, so prepare yourself with some basic biology, and don’t worry if you need to do more research in the future. Remember, you may both have some learning to do!
It’s incredibly important to show your teen that you’re willing to talk about anything that’s important to them without judgement. After all, you love your child and want to know what’s on their mind and heart. You also have things to share and teach, and they have questions, concerns, and things to tell you. As we all remember from our own teen years, romantic relationships loom pretty large in importance and consequences, and the concerns will probably loom even larger for a teen with anxiety. So show your willingness to talk by bringing the subject up yourself. Then, listen with patience and no preconceived notions of what you think they want to talk about. Eager or reluctant, your teen will eventually have something to say or ask. Encourage a conversation, rather than a parent-only monologue. And remember, this isn’t a “one and done” conversation. Rather, questions, hopes, and fears about sex and romance will most likely be part of your teen’s life from puberty onward, so treat it as a natural part of growing up.
Make Important Points Lightly
You may feel a heavy burden of responsibility when you think about talking to your teen about romance and sex. After all the decisions they make in this area can affect the rest of their life, for good or ill. You want to give them accurate information about sex and reproduction. You want to warn them of the dangers of sexually-transmitted disease, pregnancy before marriage, and abusive relationships. You also want them to know that it’s okay to take things slow, to be just friends with someone first, to keep a healthy, mindful balance of activities and not get consumed with romance too fast, too young. BUT! Your teen may already be struggling with anxiety or other mental and emotional difficulties. If you make the “birds and bees” conversations frightening, heavy, or too full of finger-wagging, you might just make your teen’s worries worse. Bring the subject up in a matter-of-fact way when you have something important to say:
● Basic information about fertility and reproduction
● House rules about dating, romantic interaction, and curfews
● Warning signs of unhealthy relationships, such as verbal or physical abuse, drug, and alcohol use, pressuring your teen for sex or money, or to isolate them from the family
Also, bring it up when you have something unimportant to say:
● Age-appropriate jokes about love and sex
● Discussions or questions about that special someone who’s tugging on your teen’s heartstrings
● Fun stories (or cautionary tales) about your own young romances
Try to keep conversations light. Don’t cram everything in at once. Make a point, tell a story, then back off and invite your child to respond. If you prepare yourself with your own values, accurate information, and an open and cheerful attitude, you can approach the subjects of love, sex, and romance in a non-threatening way that will help your anxious teen learn to navigate the new and potentially challenging waters of early adulthood.
Amy Smith is a writer, specializing in family and parenting, and also teaches English, Latin, and music at a private school. She lives with her husband and five children on a small homestead in rural Pennsylvania.