Terri Apter, PhD, a University of Cambridge researcher and leading authority on mothers and teen girls, offers a four-point plan to improve your next conversation. These ideas are taken from the May 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
I would only add that many of these ideas are equally applicable to speaking with your teenage sons about sex.
1. Make sure you go beyond biology. Straight talk about the physical and biological facts of sex is important, but good conversations include the deeply personal context in which sex occurs. Try talking about:
Relationships: By talking about the importance of sex in a relationship, you can strengthen her resistance to other reasons for having sex (such as curiosity and peer pressure).
Respect: Emphasizing respect for herself and others supports her efforts to reflect on the meaning and consequences (emotional and physical) of sexual activity.
Desire and pleasure: Surprisingly, encouraging your daughter to reflect on the importance of her own desire actually decreases her risk of unwanted pregnancy. Girls who have a mother’s encouragement to value the pleasure of sex are likely to be more prepared for and in control of their sexual experiences. Positive messages about sex seem to be more effective in supporting a teen’s control over sexual activity than do the “just say no” messages.
2. Assure your daughter that some confusion is normal.
Remind your daughter that gauging her own needs and wishes takes time.
Work with her to unravel mixed social messages.
Talk about ads and soaps and magazine articles to raise awareness about implicit messages. Discuss, for example, the contradictions in prominent social messages (girls are endangered to feel powerful, but are warned to always be on guard against rapists; they are expected to be sexual and look “ravishing,” but are advised to say no to sex).
3. Show that you are interested in what she has to say about sex.
Allow pauses in your own speech; these will invite her to respond.
When she does speak, take time to think about what she has said and ask for clarification.
Avoid jumping to conclusions about what she thinks and feels.
Avoid telling her what she should think or feel.
4. Improve opportunities for genuine conversations.
Find time to engage with your teen in activities she enjoys; these provide more comfortable settings for chat time.
Use her own interests to emphasize that she should have a say in what happens in relationships (for example, use episodes in her favorite programs to open conversations about power, agency and respect).
Learn to be comfortable with you and your daughter having different opinions. You can still listen and have a good conversation even when you do not agree with her.
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Books by Terri Apter:
You Don’t Really Know Me! (a fresh look at mother/teenage daughter conflict.
The Confident Child (helping children like themselves and feel confident about their abilities to deal with the world around them)
The Myth of Maturity (looks at the difficult transition between adolescence and adulthood)
The Sister Knot: why we fight, why were jealous and why we well love each other no matter what