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GET EDUCATED

Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Sex, Drugs and Alcohol

January 4, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

This article is based on information from the Partnership for Drug Free Kids

According to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 51% of 15-17 year olds say they are concerned that they might "do more" sexually than they planned to because they were drinking alcohol or using drugs.

Along with the stress of school, many teens are coping with issues such as body changes and image, feelings of attraction, acne, emotional confusion and the desire to push parents away to assert independence.

When teens use drugs or drink alcohol their thought process is affected so it may be difficult for them to think straight and make healthy, smart decisions:

  • Teens may drink or take drugs to feel less nervous about sex. 
  • Teens may engage in risky sexual behaviors while high or drunk -- exposing them to risk of pregnancy or sexually-transmitted diseases.

What Parents Can Do

If you feel uneasy talking to your teen about sex, drugs and alcohol, you are not alone. The following tips may be helpful:

Talk early about sex.

Teens are thinking about sex from early adolescence and they may be nervous about it. They get much misinformation about sex and what it is supposed to be like. And, some teens think if they take drugs or drink alcohol, it is going to make them feel less nervous.

Take a moment.

If your teen asks a question that shocks or surprises you, take a deep breath. You may want to say, "That's a great question." Or, "I'm not sure if you're being serious but I need a minute to think about it." Then regain your composure and return to the conversation.

Be the source of accurate information.

Above and beyond what they learn in school sex- ed or from friends or online, your teens may have questions about subjects such as drugs, pregnancy, condoms, abstinence, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and oral sex.

Explain the consequences.

Since their brains are not wired yet for consequential thinking and impulse control, it is important to have frank discussions with your teens about the consequences of unprotected sex and the importance of using condoms to prevent the spread of STDs, HIV and unwanted pregnancy.

Help your teen figure out what's right and wrong.

Your adolescent needs – and wants – limits. Your opinions and rules about sex, drugs and alcohol will help your teen better understand the results of his or her behavior.

Use teachable moments.

Watching TV (shows and advertising), movies, and the news with your teen can present an excellent opportunity to engage in a conversation about drugs, alcohol, and sex. The following questions are good starting points: "What did you think about that?" "What did you notice about how these characters interacted?" "What did you think about the decisions they made?"

Explain yourself.

Teens need to hear your rationale and why you feel the way you do. One approach is to talk about sex, drugs and alcohol in the context of your family's values and beliefs.

Talk about "sexting."

Texting sexual images and messages is prevalent and can have serious legal consequences. Often, sexting is used as a means of bullying and can be hurtful.

Persevere.

Your teenager may not want to talk — he or she may shrug and walk away. Teens may behave that way when inside what they're really saying is, "Keep talking to me about this. I need to know what you think. I'm trying to figure this out for myself as a teenager and if I don't get messages from you, then I'm not going to know how to do this."

Puberty is a hardwired, biological change that happens to all humans. It is natural to have sexual impulses and feelings that are part of puberty. Teens do not have control over these feelings and impulses, but they do have control over whether they act on them.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES

Drugfree.org: The Partnership for Drug Free Kids is a drug abuse prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery resource, existing to help parents and caregivers effectively address alcohol and drug abuse with their teens and young adults. The site has an excellent Drug Guide.

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