A Parent’s Response to Teenage Sex

A Parent’s Response to Teenage Sex

John Cowan & Ian Grant

What do I do when I discover my fourteen-year-old daughter is having sex with her boyfriend?

John Cowan and Ian Grant provided this answer in their book, “The White Water Rafting Years – A Common-Sense Guide to Parenting Teenagers”, Pa’s Publishing, 1999. Here follows an edited excerpt…

First Response

The way you respond will have a great impact on your future relationship with your daughter, and on her future well being and sexuality. It will in part be determined by the way you find out. If your daughter tearfully tells you and is already remorseful, then your response will be different from if you find them together in your bed. Perhaps you’ll discover contraceptives, or she’ll tell you, or she will be pregnant, or ill with an STD. You use both your right hand and your left hand in life. So, in parenting, use the tough and the soft approach together.

Soft Touch

Your daughter (1) needs to know that you love her, and any strain in the relationship has come from her decisions, not your rules or morals. Stand firm, but don’t let your firmness take the form of ultimatums that will permanently rupture your relationship.

Communication might be difficult. Your daughter will be embarrassed. She will have strong emotions about her boyfriend. In her imagination she will already have been rehearsing your reaction to this news. Her reaction to you might be strongly influenced by how she has been imagining you will react. So keep on your pedestal.

You have got to talk the whole thing through. When you talk to her, make sure the atmosphere is right. You approve of her, but not her actions. Don’t treat her like spoiled goods. Hopefully their own evaluation of their actions and relationship will lead them to reconsider.

What do you think your boyfriend’s attitude to you is?

What’s his level of commitment to you?

Where do you think you will be in five years? Where will he be?

If talking face to face is too hard, break the ice by writing your daughter a letter. Tell her how beautiful, intelligent and desirable she is. Tell her six good things about herself, because they may get the impression that just because you don’t approve of her actions, you don’t approve of her.

A letter can be a good way of sharing your wisdom on relationships. It can be hard not to come over preachy, but a letter couched in terms of respect, love, and belief in her as a person might profoundly influence her. She deserves a long term committed relationship.

Teach her the things that can be so hard to see ∆ or believe ∆ when you are in the middle of a passionate relationship. You don’t want your daughter ever regretting that she wasted the best years of her life on relationships that don’t go anywhere.

Tough Stuff

It is incredible that parents, who have no qualms about forbidding their teenager from driving while they are fourteen, should have anxiety about their authority to interfere in their young teenagers’ sexual escapades. Don’t fall for the lie that a fourteen year old can make major life decisions. They don’t get the cognitive skills to handle heavy duty long term issues until at least seventeen. And sex is heavy duty and long term – because the consequences are.

If the girl is under sixteen, you should stop her from having sex. You have full moral and legal authority to do so. Set strict limits on her liberty. The boy is in jeopardy of the law (2) , and should know this. Your stance will not be popular with your daughter (or with other people in this morally lax world).

If the girl is aged sixteen to eighteen, and insists on exercising her ‘legal right’ to sleep with her boy friend, then insist that if she is making adult decisions she has to accept the adult consequences.

Resist punishing as this would thrust her into his arms. On the other hand, you are not required to ‘aid and abet’ her sexual activity.

If she is over the age of eighteen, realise that you are dealing with an adult. Different strategies and will be needed, but she is still your daughter, you are still entitled to state your opinions and dictate what is permissible in your house.

Of course the issue is not merely one of age. No teenager believes that something that is “right” at eighteen is “wrong” at fourteen. The real issues are ones of morality, and emotional and physical risk.

Jump Before They Do

If you can, pre-empt this situation. You, the parent, should be your children’s first and most authoritative sex educator.

Admittedly, your teenager will probably be disgusted at the thought of his Mum and Dad having sex. None of us like to think about that one! In fact, your teenager’s generous Mothers’ Day gifts are probably given as some sort of compensation for her having to sleep with their father. But they will listen to you when you talk about sex. They may feign disgust or disinterest, which is probably just a sign that they are as embarrassed ∆ as you may be yourself.

A lot of sex education deals with the technical side but does not adequately deal with relationships, emotions and consequences. A booklet by Parenting With Confidence called Sex With Attitude (3) will help you discuss with your teenager the wider implications of sexuality. Give her the booklet to read and ask her opinions.

1. This example is of a daughter, but much applies to sons as well. There should be no double standard.

2. It is illegal for a male to have sex with a boy or girl who is under the age of sixteen.

3. Sex With Attitude is available for $2 from Parenting With Confidence,
P.O.Box 74 379, Market Road, Auckland 1130.