Talking about the birds and the bees can be a tough conversation for parents and teens. It makes them very nervous. But it's important to get the subject out in the open because a surprising number of kids are sexually active at an early age. Parents are the biggest influence.
Sabrina Weill, the former editor-in-chief of Seventeen magazine, offers advice in a book called "The Real Truth About Teens And Sex."to read an excerpt.
After talking with thousands of teenagers, Weill realized that parents know that their teens will drive a car and do everything they can to prepare them for it in advance. However, parents expect sex not to happen, knowing that it most likely does.
"Parents aren't keeping up with teenagers' reality," she tells The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm. Weill says that today's children are experiencing sexual information overload.
"They have so much sexual information coming to them from the media, friends, the Internet," she says. "The problem is they aren't getting the information from the right places. The conversations with parents are just not keeping up.
"Middle schoolers tell me that they see pornography in their school library computers and very few young teenagers are having this kind of conversation."
Weill says many kids don't tell the truth to their parents when it comes to sex for three main reasons:
- They don't want to anger their parents
- They don't want to disappoint their parents
- They think their parents don't care to know because they don't talk about it with them
"Parents are actually the most influential factors in teens' decisions about sex," Weill says. "It's something a lot of parents don't know. Once they do know that, they feel really empowered. Teens want to hear from their parents about sex and they need to."
She has numerous tips for parents when it comes to broaching this sensitive subject with their teenagers. Here are a few:
Let the news inspire your conversation
"I always tell parents: Look at the media that your teenagers are consuming," Weill says. "Watch their TV shows. Watch the movies they're watching; read the books and magazines they're reading. That will give you an idea of the kinds of conversations they're having elsewhere."
She also advises parents to be personal without revealing things they are not comfortable revealing. Weill says teenagers don't expect parents to answer every question they ask.
"I think it's perfectly fine to say, 'Well, here are my hopes and wishes for you. I'm not totally comfortable sharing everything about my personal life with you,' " she says.
She warns that nobody likes to be preached at.
"You want this to be a conversation, not a monologue from the parents," she says. "If you want your teenagers to listen to you, don't express your wishes as, 'You must do this.' Teenagers shut off when you do that. You really want to say, 'These are my values; these are our family's values. This is what I hope you will do.' That's a very powerful message. Teens don't want to disappoint you."
Ask two questions for every statement you make
"It keeps the conversation going," Weill says. "You may learn something that you didn't know before. The parent doesn't always have to be the person at dinner table who knows everything. It's OK to allow the teenager to enlighten you about how things really are. They may, in fact, know more than their parents about the way things are in their life."
Ignore your teens' expressions
"They don't have a two-way conversation the way adults do," Weill says. "Just keep talking because they are absolutely listening to you. Teenagers don't expect or want parents to be cool. I think fear of being uncool is what stops a lot parents."
Make your expectations very clear
"Don't say 'wait until you're in love,' " Weill says, "but 'wait until you're this particular age,' or 'until you have been dating the person for a certain amount of time' or 'are in love and can talk openly about birth control, STD's and how sex will change the relationship.' "
"Teens are so sensitive to judging," Weill says. "Even if you call girls at their school names because they're sexually active, or if you say that certain boys make decisions that are stupid, the teenager will wonder, 'What do you think about me? What will you say about me?' And what you never want to do is create a situation where the teenager won't feel comfortable coming to when you they need you."