By: Erica Lyon
Pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood health educator and Advocacy Board Chair of ASAFET
One concern I get from parents in regards to talking about birth control with their teenagers is that perhaps, by talking about birth control, it will imply condoning early sexual activity. As a pregnancy and parent educator for over 20 years, sadly I have seen more harm come from avoiding the topic rather than having a transparent conversation about birth control options. The value of the birth control conversation is it gives you a platform to instill your values into your kids, while being fully honest about what they may encounter from their peers and the world at large. Failure to discuss a pertinent topic with our teens, which will be discussed with their peers regardless, leaves our teens vulnerable to serious misinformation and possibly challenging outcomes. In my work with pregnant teens (ages 12-17) I have heard the following: “I heard you couldn’t get pregnant the first time”, “I heard you couldn’t get pregnant if you were drinking”, “I heard you couldn’t get pregnant if he withdrew…” the list of bad information goes on and on.
Trust is a key part of faith and family. If you want to explain to your kids why your faith wants a teen to wait for sex, then you need to be honest about all the options your kids will hear about from the world around them. This includes reviewing various forms of birth control so they know the true process in addition to the why, as a parent, you likely want them to wait to engage in sexual activity. By failing to acknowledge a reality, we risk losing the trust of our children. They may wonder why we have only told them half the story or not told them anything at all about what they are hearing about in the world. One critical value of a conversation about birth control is it brings home the key point that being sexually active comes with responsibility. It requires adult planning and forethought in terms of relationships, intimacy and child planning.
We live in a world where our kids are inundated with innuendo, over-commercialized sexuality and ever-changing perception of cultural norms. It’s a dangerous time to be parental ostriches and stick our heads in the sand claiming we cannot talk about sex and birth control because it will condone sexual activity. Respectful conversation about sex and birth control is important because it teaches our kids at a vulnerable age about healthy relationships. Which conversation would you prefer as a parent to have with your teen: “Um, mom, I was thinking maybe I could get the pill?” or “Um mom, I’m pregnant”. As a parent, I have little input necessarily on the latter if I don’t, as a parent, take responsibility for educating my kids about the former. It is important to address the teen elephant in the room to prevent the distrust or silence a teen may begin to have with their parents as they normally begin to mature and separate from us.
The age of puberty is a time of new thoughts, new insecurities, new pressures and new feelings. Consider that the teen brain is wired for risk taking. Just 3 generations ago our 16-year-olds would have been likely married or preparing for marriage. Their “taking risk” brain would have been fully satisfied by leaving home, marrying, starting their own family and working a 16 hours day to put food on the table side by side with their spouse. Not so in the modern era. Our kids have a long extended leisurely adolescence-plenty of time for finding new ways to take risk. Sex being the oldest, first and foremost possible experimentation. This age is an opportunity for teaching and arming a teen with the truth about choices and our own family values to empower them to feel they know what is going on and that they can make the right choices for themselves in the world. Regardless of my personal belief about when my teens should be sexually active, I would far prefer he or she (this is a conversation for sons as well as pregnancy and potential parenthood is an equal burden in a young person’s future) could come to me to discuss rather than avoid my counsel.
Ultimately, what we all hope for with our kids, as they grow into adults, is to be able to achieve and maintain loving adult relationships. Teaching about sex and birth control with the emphasis on relationship, respect and responsibility furthers that message. I suggest, as parents, we stop birth control from being a taboo subject, otherwise we create license for misunderstanding, deception, hurt and serious consequences in the teen and parenting world.
Erica Lyon is a pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood health educator and is on the Board of ASAFET. The views expressed are hers and may not necessarily reflect the views of all ASAFET members or supporters.
Coming soon: how to talk to kids about sex and birth control by age appropriate developmental stage