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WhenTalking to Teens About Sex, Use Wisdom from Your Past

  • Doug Herman
  • Published Mar 02, 2004
WhenTalking to Teens About Sex, Use Wisdom from Your Past

"Can I be candid with you, Mr. Herman?" one mom of a teen shyly asked me. "Well, the truth is . . . when I was a young teen girl I was sexually active-with alcohol use, drugs, and the works. I grew up in the seventies and eighties! How am I supposed to be honest with my teen about my history and still talk to them about their choices?"

Do you feel that way? Is your history laden with various land-mine choices you made? Well, the reality is that many of us have embarrassing stories. Do we tell our teens or not? And if we choose to do so, how much do we say, and how can we be authentic and not hypocritical by telling them to act in a way we did not?

I'll cut to the chase here: The truth is, tell the truth. As I've spoken to many teens nationally and internationally, what they say they want most is for you to be honest. They want honest answers and reasons. For example, why did you race your car at 120 miles per hour with the lights off, and now you say they can't? Because you were stupid, that's why. And because you love them and don't want them to die.

Why did you have sex and they cannot? Same reason! But there's so much more. Today teen sexual activity is worse than it's ever been, thanks in large part to our generation and the attitudes we had about sex and free love. For those of you who were teens in the fifties and sixties, you only had a handful of STDs to contend with. Pregnancy was your main concern. For you parents who remember the seventies and eighties, more STDs reared their heads, but condoms reduced many risks, and various birth control options helped prevent pregnancy. Now into the 2000s, there are diseases and cancers that latex cannot stop. People die from sex and STDs now.

Not only do people die physically from sex and STDs, they die emotionally as well. Didn't you just say that you had regrets? If you want your child to grow up healthy, you need to influence them. So start by being honest about yourself and your history. If you were sexually active before you were married, it was wrong. As an author and abstinence speaker, I have had to look deep into the mirror myself and face my own history. No, it's not easy. But doing so makes you authentic-someone kids want to talk to. And it makes you stronger and more determined in your fight to keep today's kids pure.

And, my friend, we are not alone. "For the first time in American history," writes Dr. Margaret Meeker, "parents are faced with the difficulty of teaching their teens that they [the teens] cannot embrace a freedom that their parents had. We have to reverse a liberty for the safety of the kids, which evokes indecision and guilt in the minds of parents."15 But even if your pride takes a hit or you feel embarrassed, don't stop. Establish this "safety" at all costs. You and your kids will be thankful down the road!

I know one mother of who had a very wild life as a teenager and in college. "I'll never share what I did," she told my wife and me. "They don't need to know that." Although every person has a different comfort level regarding talking about the specifics of their past experiences, it's important to at least be honest with yourself. Privately examine the choices you made. Then ask yourself Would you or wouldn't you make those same choices now, and why? Use that reasoning as the foundation upon which to build your discussions with your child.

In other words, I'm not advising you to spill all the dark secrets of your life. You may not need to share all of your history, and it may not be currently age-appropriate for your child to hear. But you need to understand that what our teens face today is much different than what we faced as teens. The consequences are much different. Therefore, our attitudes and how we parent might require a different approach.

But this is where society lashes back at us. Those baby boomers who today are of the opinion that free sex is not only beneficial but acceptable need the theories of "safe sex" to work. Why? "We need them to be reasonable because it keeps us off the hook. If we could find a way to preserve a freedom 'enjoyed' by our generation, then we wouldn't have to (1) admit that what we had was wrong (at least harmful), or (2) struggle with urging our teens not to do something that we did."16

So is it guilt that makes so many of us not talk with our children and teens about high-risk sexual behaviors? Dr. Meeker explains: "That's why baby boomer parents are often indecisive regarding our teens' sexual activity. We are frightened for what could happen to them, but we don't feel we have the tools to instruct and teach them. We feel helpless because being sexually active has taken center stage in teen culture. Baby boomer parents find themselves saying to themselves, 'I had it, but they can't,' leading them to do nothing."17

But can we simply do nothing? The cultural permissiveness of our past creeps into our family room and slithers around our feet, binding us. "We feel impotent in a culture screaming, 'Yes, you can have it all, including sexual freedom.'"18

Oh, dear friends, what we need is a Pure Revolution! There is something you can do. In fact, no one else can create a more powerful change for teens and children than you can. Just check out these statistics for some additional encouragement!

What the Polls Say About Teen Sex19

• Teens say parents, friends, and religious/moral values most strongly influence their decisions about whether or not to have sex outside of marriage.

• In 2001, 49 percent of teenagers said their parents influenced their decisions about sex most strongly; 16 percent said their friends; 11 percent said media; 6 percent said minister/rabbi or religious leader; 6 percent said siblings. Only 5 percent said romantic partner!

• In 1995, 44 percent of girls age 15-19 who said they had never had premarital sex cited religious or moral values as their main reason for abstaining; 20 percent said it was to avoid pregnancy; 20 percent said they hadn't met the right partner; 13 percent said it was to avoid STDs.

This Pure Revolution begins with you and your family. The focal point is what I call your connectedness to your teens and children. But with this, your child's abstinence won't be passive. It will change the world!

Adapted from "Time for a Pure Revolution" by Doug Herman © 2004 by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Used by special permission of Tyndale House Publishers. For any other use, please contact Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. for permission. All rights reserved.