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  • Writer's pictureDevin Olivia Barton-Torres

Keep the Conversation Going: Talking to your Teen about Sex & Dating

Updated: Jan 3

A brown-haired boy wearing a red shirt with white stripes is kissing a blonde girl on the cheek.

Talking to your teenager about sex and dating can be uncomfortable, but it's crucial for their individual well-being and the collective health of a generation. Discussing challenges and providing comprehensive sex education empowers them to communicate, set boundaries, and practice consent. These skills lay the foundation for healthy relationships built on respect and mutual understanding. We can break cycles of unfulfilling, toxic, and abusive relationships by equipping our teens with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate dating, sex, and relationships with confidence and empathy.

Teenagers face numerous challenges when it comes to dating and sexuality. They may feel peer pressure to conform to societal expectations, struggle with self-esteem and body image issues, or encounter misinformation from unreliable sources, a particularly difficult challenge in the age of modern technology. These challenges stem from a social environment where unhealthy norms about relationships and sex are common. These norms can have devastating impacts, including dating violence and sexual assault.

Conversations with our teens about these issues supports them in developing the skills they need to navigate this new world in a way that honors their values, boundaries, and needs. It also keeps the lines of communication open if they have harmful or abusive encounters. Being able to turn to their parents for support is foundational for a lasting, trusting relationship as they grow into adulthood.

Promoting Healthy Sex and Dating through Comprehensive Education

Comprehensive sex education serves as a powerful tool in violence prevention and promoting a healthy relationship with sex. Regular topics such as communication, boundaries, and continuous consent are easy ways to teach knowledge and skills that are critical as teens learn to navigate relationships. The more practice and understanding they have regarding these skills, the easier they’ll be able to recall them in challenging or unexpected moments. These conversations are also opportunities to model authentic communication, mutual respect, and decision-making. They learn their questions and experiences matter when parents take them seriously and devote mindful attention to answering them. They learn to work through awkward and uncomfortable conversations, and will be less deterred by those uncomfortable feelings in other settings. They also learn how to advocate for their evolving needs and interests and how to apply healthy boundaries. Conversations such as curfews, allowance and chores, and school expectations are all opportunities to engage teens in collaborative decision-making that provide opportunities to practice more complex social, emotional, and communication skills.

As parents, we play a vital role in providing accurate and age-appropriate information about relationships, consent, sexual health, and contraception. Our teens rely on us as their reliable source of knowledge, and debunking myths becomes a powerful act of love. Encourage them to ask questions, assuring them that seeking knowledge is a sign of maturity and responsibility. By promoting appropriate education, healthcare, acceptance, and mental health support, we equip them to make informed choices.

In demonstrating empathy towards our teenagers, we foster deeper connections and understanding that extend far beyond awkward conversations, uncomfortable questions, and unfamiliar language.

Be a Safe Space

Dating, sex, and relationships presents our teenagers with a myriad of challenges. From societal pressures to self-esteem struggles and misinformation, they face obstacles that can shape their journey in profound ways. As parents, it is vital for us to not only recognize but also empathize with these challenges. By understanding and acknowledging their experiences, we create a safe and non-judgmental environment where our teens feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and concerns.

For Queer teens, this journey of self-discovery holds unique questions and concerns. To provide them with the support they need, it is crucial that we educate ourselves about LGBTQ+ issues. Arming ourselves with knowledge equips us to create a family environment that’s supportive of our teens identity and affirming of their experience. We also learn to advocate for their needs better, whether it be through connecting them with a queer-affirming healthcare provider or ensuring the school’s sexuality education program is queer inclusive., allowing them to openly discuss their feelings and questions. Through validating their identities, respecting their autonomy, and ensuring they have access to tailored resources and support, we empower them to embrace their authentic selves and navigate relationships with confidence.

It can be easy to dismiss the challenges our teens face when we have so much distance from what it was like to be their age. Their complaints, needs, and questions may seem small in context of the never-ending responsibilities of adulthood. Empathy must be at the center of our approach to teaching and communicating with our teens. As they grow, they’ll be increasingly empowered to make decisions in their best interest, and if they feel we are not a safe, empathetic place to turn to, then they won’t turn to us. In demonstrating empathy towards our teenagers, we foster deeper connections and understanding that extend far beyond awkward conversations, uncomfortable questions, and unfamiliar language. By listening without judgment, offering support, and validating their experiences, we show them that they are seen and valued. Practicing empathy allows us to meet them where they are, building a foundation of trust that encourages open communication and healthy exploration of their identities and relationships.

Center on Consent

Consent education is a fundamental aspect of comprehensive sex education. By teaching our teens about the importance of consent and the necessity of obtaining clear and enthusiastic agreement from their partners, we empower them to make informed choices. We teach consent as an ongoing process when we practice it in everyday situations. Some examples of how consent can be practiced across a child’s development include:

  • Knocking on their bedroom door and waiting for permission to enter.

  • Giving them two chores to choose from rather than assigning a single chore.

  • Normalize asking permission to hug them, especially in public settings where they may fear judgment or teasing from peers.

  • Communicate how you expect them to speak to you, this models establishing and honoring personal boundaries.

Continuous consent normalizes the ebbs and flows of how we naturally engage with other people. Sometimes they’ll agree to a hug in front of their friends and other times they won't. When they learn there isn’t a punishment for saying no or withdrawing consent, they’re empowered to use no when they want to. It’s been taught to them that the word has meaning and it’s appropriate to expect that to be honored. withdrawn at any time, our teens learn to prioritize respect and mutual agreement in their relationships. This understanding becomes a critical factor in preventing violence and fostering relationships built on consent and equality.

Continued learning is key when it comes to discussing sex, dating, and LGBTQ+ issues with our teens. Topics like consent, healthy communication, boundaries, and relationship dynamics are crucial conversations to have. By staying informed with current information and resources, we grow alongside our teens, fostering deeper connections. And remember, if there are areas where you feel uncertain, don't hesitate to seek guidance from professionals—healthcare providers, counselors, or local organizations specialized in supporting teens.

Embrace the Journey & Transform the Conversation

To truly support our teens in navigating the complexities of dating and sex, consider partnering with a trusted life coach who specializes in guiding parents through this transformative journey. I bring a rich combination of my professional training as an advocate and violence preventionist, social worker, and fifteen-year parenting veteran to my approach of empowering parentings for connected and healing relationships with their children. My education and professional background equips me to facilitate insightful conversation, develop communication strategies, and recommend tailored strategies to your unique situation. Support is available in a variety of ways, and all services are customized to your needs. You can empower yourself with the knowledge and tools needed to foster healthy relationships and open conversations with your teen. Take the first step toward creating a supportive environment by contacting us today. Your teen's well-being is worth investing in.

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