Should I get my adolescent daughter started on birth control now that I know she's been having sex with her boyfriend? Needless to say, I'm extremely upset about this. They're both Christian believers, and they understand that pre-marital sex is wrong - they're just unable to control themselves. I don't want to appear to be condoning her actions, but I don't want an unplanned pregnancy either. How should I handle this?
Your question indicates that you're a thoughtful, caring and sensitive parent. Since this is the case, you probably don't need us to tell you that blowing up, finger-wagging, lecturing and name-calling aren't going to be particularly helpful. The first thing you need to remember is to think before you react. We suggest you take some time to cool off and then sit down and talk with your daughter about the situation. This will probably be more appropriate than risking a volatile, spur-of-the-moment confrontation.
There are several questions you might want to consider as you ponder the best way of approaching this sensitive issue with your daughter. Is she aware that you know what's been going on? If not, you'll have to broach the subject tactfully. It would be best if you could somehow nudge her gently in the direction of making an acknowledgment on her own initiative. Start with an open-ended question like, "Can you tell me about your relationship with your boyfriend?" If you succeed in getting her to talk, don't squelch the flow of her confession with unnecessary editorial comments. Instead of accusing or condemning, listen to her story before offering your viewpoint. Show compassion and concern. And whatever you do, don't tear down her sense of self-worth with comments like, "I am so ashamed of you!"
Once the truth is out in the open, you will want to proceed to a discussion of consequences. We think it would be entirely appropriate to require that she discontinue her relationship with this boy. You should also have a serious conversation with his parents. Meanwhile, encourage her to explore alternative venues of interaction with the opposite sex - group dates, for example, or a higher level of involvement with a church youth group. Talk about the importance of pursuing a commitment to sexual purity and make it clear that, for the time being, there can be no question of unsupervised individual dates. Put the emphasis on the big picture and explain how premarital sexual activity will jeopardize all of her future goals and dreams.
As you're having these discussions, don't neglect to emphasize the spiritual aspects of the issue. Your daughter needs to understand why sexual purity is important. Help her grasp the point that this is not just a matter of "being a good girl," "doing the right thing," "conforming to Christian standards," or "following Mom and Dad's rules." Instead, it's a question of living her life according to God's plan and devoting herself body and soul to the One who loved her enough to die on the cross on her behalf. Ultimately, everything revolves around her relationship with Him.
On the practical side, you should definitely seek professional medical input. A doctor's evaluation should be on the agenda to check for signs of pregnancy and STIs. Be sure to select your health-care provider carefully - your daughter will be less likely to choose abstinence in the future if she has a doctor who feels that teens can't control their sexual impulses. Be ready to take any action appropriate to deal with the logistical aspects of the situation - for example, to address the underlying issues behind the behavior, to prepare for a possible pregnancy and to repair the emotional damage done. You may also need to have one or more candid conversations with the boyfriend and his parents. Dating and other socializing patterns that may have increased the chances for intimacy should be reassessed and restructured.
But what about the question you raised? What about supplying your daughter with contraception as a way of "protecting" her from her own urges? This, in our opinion, is the one thing you should not do. We have good reasons for saying this. It's not just that such a move on your part would seem to imply tacit approval of teen sexual activity, as you suggest. It's that it would also communicate the idea that "safe sex" is achievable, and that it can be attained simply by taking a pill, wearing a condom or using a diaphragm. This is a lie we dare not propagate to the younger generation. As Christians, we know that the only kind of sex that's truly "safe" - emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as well as physically - is marital sex.
Finally, you should seriously consider getting your daughter (and yourself) into counseling. A wise counselor may be able to talk more candidly with your teenager about sexuality while simultaneously promoting a decision to remain abstinent in the future. Sexual activity may be a symptom of more basic problems that need ongoing work. Be prepared to put in time with the counselor yourself to deal with the causes and effects of this problem within your family.
Call our Counseling department to discuss your situation and for referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your area.
Boundaries with Teens