How should we handle the discovery that our teenager has been sexually active for the past several months? We're not happy about it, but we want to deal with the problem without alienating our child. What should we do?
Your question indicates that you're a thoughtful, caring and sensitive parent. You probably understand then that blowing up, finger-wagging, lecturing and name-calling aren't going to be particularly helpful. This is a significant family problem and it deserves a loving and thoughtful response. The goal is to contain the damage and coach your adolescent toward more healthy and rational decisions without driving a wedge into the parent-child relationship.
The first thing you need to remember is to pray and think before you react. It's normal to feel upset and disappointed, and you will probably need a couple of days to settle down. Take some time to cool off and then arrange a meeting to sit down and talk about what has happened. This will probably be more appropriate than risking a volatile, spur-of-the-moment confrontation.
When the time for this discussion arrives, try to ask open-ended questions ("Can you tell me about your relationship with _____?") rather than judgmental ones ("How could you have done this?"). Listen to the whole story before offering your viewpoint. Editorial comments will shut off communication in a hurry. Put the emphasis on the big picture and explain how premarital sexual activity jeopardizes all of your adolescent's future goals and dreams. And whatever you do, don't tear down your teenager's sense of self-worth with comments like, "I am so ashamed of you!"
On the practical side, be sure to get the necessary medical input. A doctor's evaluation should be on the agenda to check for STIs (and for girls, to obtain a Pap test or perhaps a pregnancy test). Be sure to select your health-care provider carefully - your adolescent is less likely to choose abstinence in the future if they have a doctor who feels that teens can't control their sexual urges. Be ready 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 your teen's partner and with his or her parents. Dating and other socializing patterns that may have increased the chances for intimacy should be reassessed and restructured.
Finally, you should seriously consider getting your son or daughter (and yourself) into counseling. A wise counselor may be able to talk more candidly with your teenager about sexuality and encourage them 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.
Focus on the Family's Counseling Department can provide you with referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your area. Our staff counselors are also available to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
Sex Is Not the Problem