My Daughter is Too Young to Have Sex!

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(The Vancouver Sun, January, 2001)

Q: HELP! My daughter is too young to be having sex! She is 16 years old and has been seeing a boy at her school since September. We have quite a close relationship, but I’m not sure if she’d feel comfortable telling me that she was sexually active. I think she is because I accidently found a birth control pill pamphlet in her drawer. How do I voice my concern without pushing her away?
K.R., Vancouver

Saleema and Teresa: Unfourtunately, you can’t be with your daughter every minute of the day to keep her safe. What you can do though, is provide her with the skills, knowledge and belief system that will keep her protected and healthy when making sexuality-related decisions. Here are some tips:

  • Voice your concerns, but respect your daughter’s privacy.
  • Your daughter is unlikely to share experiences or answer questions if she thinks you are going to demand to know all the details about her private life. Make it clear that you are concerned that she may be having sex too early, but try not to get caught up in too many details about what she is or isn’t doing. For example, a general question such as "So, are many people your age having sex?" may be more effective than "Are you having sex?" in starting a discussion.
  • Make your family or religious values clear.
  • Teens need guidance and limitations when making decisions about their behavior. For example, it is perfectly alright to say "In our family, it is not OK to have sex before you’re married." These limitations provide your daughter with a reason not to engage in behaviours she may not be completely comfortable with.
  • Discuss the consequences of being sexually active.
  • Talk to your daughter about the emotional and physical responsibility involved with being sexually active. Encourage her to think about the reasons someone would want to have sex at a young age (Is it to keep a relationship? Show maturity?) and how difficult it would be to be a teen parent. Using teachable moments such as movies or the experiences of family friends may make this task easier.
  • Provide your daughter with necessary resources.
  • Create an open, inviting atmosphere in which she feels comfortable communicating with you about sex and relationships. Use books as a follow up to these discussions. If your daughter feels more comfortable with her own doctor rather than the family doctor, be supportive of that. Since a major obstacle to teens having protected intercourse is access to contraception, have a supply of condoms in a designated place in your home and guarantee that no questions wll be asked about their consumption.
  • Trust her.

By being honest and providing support rather than telling your daughter what to do, you are sending the message that "I trust you to make the decisions that are right for you." She will remember this when you’re not around.