Mother talks to her teenage daughter about sex

A single dad is in shock after discovering his 15-year-old daughter has had sex. She’s Daddy’s Little Girl. How could she?

And as reality sinks in, he loses sleep at night “wishing I could have prevented this”. So he writes on a parenting blog. Another woman has asked the question he wants the answer to.

“How would you deal with your 15-year-old daughter having sex?”

And then the debate begins. Be open with them and they’ll be open with you. Be strict and they won’t have the opportunity to. Be supportive. No, be firm. It goes on and on.

But how do parents avoid this debate entirely? How can parents speak to their children before they have sexual relations, to prevent them from entering into said sexual relations too early on in life? How can they intervene, without seeming smothering?

The first step, according to child and adolescent psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is to speak to your child earlier than you may think you need to, as “the research says that the earlier you talk to them, the later they initiate sex.”

Teens – and now children – are exposed to and engaging in sexual intercourse earlier than ever, says Melinda Tankard-Reist, with increased exposure to sex-related content online and in society.

“Parents have to recognise that the landscape has changed,” Tankard-Reist – who is an author, and speaker in the space – tells The Weekly Online. “And the questions that [young girls] used to ask me at 16 or 17, they’re now asking me at 11, 12 and 13. They’re finding it really hard to navigate this sexual landscape that boys are expecting them to do from what they see in pornography.”

And while society hasn’t surpassed ‘the birds and the bees’ conversation, it does take more than one discussion to help your children navigate their sexuality and make the right decisions when it comes to their relationships and bodies.

It really lies in developing a strong relationship with them, says Tankard-Reist “otherwise the child won’t listen to you.”

“This is much broader than what to say to your child. How is your relationship? Do you spend time with your child? Do you connect with your child? Do they come to you and tell you things? Do you make time for them to do that? You’ve got to have the right setting first otherwise your kid isn’t going to want to hear it. And a lot of it isn’t what we say, it’s what we do. So it’s obviously about modelling good behaviour in the home, modelling respectful behaviour in the home."

“Some of the research shows that daughters who have good fathers, positive fathers, fathers that adore their wives and are in touch with their emotions are actually better enabled to make good decisions about their own relationships and about their sexuality.”

And while being open and honest with your children about an issue as awkward as their future sex lives may seem daunting, some children, and especially young girls may want someone to confide in.

“A lot of young girls don’t actually want [to engage in sex yet] but they don’t know how to navigate their way out of it when the pressure is so strong,” says Tankard-Reist. "So it comes down to helping girls be strong in themselves and have self-belief, and decide what they really want rather than to be pressured by the guy and by the culture more broadly.”

And there are potential psychological impacts for children who engage in sexual intercourse too young, says Dr. Michael Carr-Gregg.

“This can affect the developing brain and may interfere with a child's capacity to integrate sensory, emotional and cognitive information which may lead to over-reactive responses to subsequent stress and long-term effects such as cognitive, behavioural, physical and mental health problems.”

These issues are a risk to both girls and boys, so parents with sons need to model respectful relationships, too, and – as Tankard-Reist suggests – have a broader discussion about pornography as it is difficult for parents to monitor.

“Obviously we need to do it in sensitive ways and we can start with a conversation about body parts and body safety because if you shame them they’re just going to go underground and look at worse stuff."

"It’s not an easy conversation to have but the fact is there’s a vacuum there and if parents don’t step into it then someone else will and it might not be someone who has the child’s best interest at heart.”

For further assistance and information about talking to your children about sex, check out It's Time We Talked.