Talking with Teens about the Risks of Premarital Sex and Substance Abuse

Your teen should be receiving information on these subjects from responsible adults everywhere - at school, church and within your extended family. But you can't count on these people to do the job for you. Parenting is a personal commitment. You may need to muster enough courage to tell your son about poor decisions that turned out to be costly in your own life. At some point, you may even have to help him navigate back from a bumpy side road or even pull him out of a ditch.

In order to be able to encourage healthy choices and offer effective help when it's needed, you'd be wise to educate yourself on the risks associated with substance abuse and premarital sexual activity among teens. Focus on the Family has a number of helpful resources available in this area (for details see the listing below). But knowledge, while essential, will be of little value if you don't know how to use it in ways that will mold your adolescent's attitudes and decisions. Finding the best approach to talking with your child about these sensitive subjects takes forethought and patience. The following ideas can help you lay the groundwork for this task:

  1. It's easier to talk about difficult topics if you have good rapport with your child in other areas. So spend time building and strengthening the parent-child relationship in every area. The effort will pay major dividends later on.
  2. Parents often worry that if they discuss certain topics (especially sex) in any detail, it will "give the kids ideas." Here's a late news flash: the kids already have plenty of ideas. What they need now is to hear your viewpoint about them. But don't expect them to ask - you need to take the initiative.
  3. Warnings about unhealthy behaviors will be more effective if they aren't diluted by nagging about less serious matters. Accentuate the positive and what you say about the negative will carry more weight. Remember that it's easier for an adolescent to stay away from dangerous detours if the main highway is clearly marked, well lit, attractive and enjoyable. Another way to say this is that you can protect your child against harmful behaviors by providing healthy alternatives. Encourage and support positive goals, commitments, friends and activities - all of which are strong deterrents to destructive activities.
  4. Don't expect to communicate your values in a few marathon sessions. Brief but potent teachable moments crop up regularly throughout childhood and adolescence. Seizing these opportunities requires spending enough time with a child to allow them to take place.
  5. Your actions will reinforce (or invalidate) your words. The misguided commandment, "Do what I say, not what I do," has never worked and never will. This doesn't mean, of course, that parents can't legitimately warn their kids not to do what they did as teenagers. Heartfelt confessions, cautionary tales and lessons learned at the University of Hard Knocks can have a profound impact on young listeners.
  6. Don't shift into "lecture gear" very often, if at all. Your teen's desire for independence and his heartfelt need to be treated like an adult will cause his eyes to glaze and attention to drift if you begin sermonizing. Just say what's on your heart without beating the point into the ground.
  7. Don't give up if your efforts to discuss tough topics aren't greeted with enthusiasm. Even when your tone is open and inviting, you may find that a lively conversation isn't easy to start. Be patient, don't express frustration and don't be afraid to try again later. If your spouse has any helpful suggestions about improving your delivery of the message, listen carefully and act accordingly.
  8. While you need to articulate your perspective on sex, drugs and other important matters with consistency, conviction and clarity, your adolescent must also understand that he can come to you when he has a problem. He needs to know that you, like God, are "a refuge and strength, a help in time of trouble."

If you need help applying these principles or would simply like to discuss them at greater length with a member of our staff, we hope you'll feel free to call Focus on the Family's Counseling Department. Our counselors are available to speak with you at this number.

This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family.

Resources
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No, to Take Control of Your Life (book)InDating

Godly Encouragement for Tween Daughters (broadcast)

The Focus on the Family Guide to Talking with Your Kids about Sex: Honest Answers for Every Age (book)

A Chicken's Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex (book)

Check out our Web area on Sex & Intimacy as well as additional materials from our Family Store. 180

Articles
Parenting: Talking About Sex and Puberty

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family.