Talking About Sex, Drugs, and Alcohol With Your Teen

Let’s talk about sex.

You might not want to think so, but sex, drugs and alcohol are linked in several ways for today’s teenagers. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, among 15-17 year olds, 51% say that they are personally concerned that they might “do more” sexually than they planned to because they were drinking or using drugs. Teen sex, drugs and alcohol are often connected because developmentally, teens are at a time in their lives when they take risks. How are they linked?

* Teens 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.

When teens use drugs or drink alcohol, their thought process is affected so it’s difficult for them to think straight and make healthy and smart decisions. I have heard many stories first-hand where a young person’s life has been completely undone by unwanted, unplanned and/or unprotected sexual encounters—often involving drugs and alcohol.

What Parents Can Do

It’s normal to feel uneasy about talking to your teen about sex, drugs and alcohol. (I know I certainly did.) Here are 10 tips that may help you:

1. Talk early and talk often about sex. “Teens are thinking about sex from early adolescence and they’re very nervous about it,” explains Elizabeth Schroeder, EdD, MSW, Executive Director, Answer, a national sexuality education organization based at Rutgers University. “They get a lot of misinformation about sex and what it’s supposed to be like. And as a result they think that if they take drugs or drink, it’s going to make them feel less nervous.”

2. Take a moment. What if your teen asks a question that shocks you? Dr. Schroeder suggests saying, “‘You know, that’s a great question.’ or ‘I gotta tell you, I’m not sure if you’re being serious right now but I need a minute.’” Then regain your composure and return to the conversation. Learn how to handle personal questions from your teen like: “How old were you when you first had sex?” and “Have you ever used drugs?”

3. Be the source of accurate information. Beyond many school health classes, teens have lots of questions about drugs, pregnancy, condoms, abstinence and oral sex.

4. Explain the consequences. Since teen brains aren’t wired yet for consequential thinking and impulse control, it’s important to have frank discussions with your teens about the ramifications of unprotected sex and the importance of using condoms to prevent the spread of STDs, HIV and unwanted pregnancy. (Approximately 1 in 4 sexually active teens contract an STD every year.)

Find out how to guide your child toward healthy risks instead of dangerous ones.

So, the the main message is when it comes to sex, drugs and drinking, start talking, keep talking and talk some more. You want to reinforce healthy messages and values and help your teens develop the skills that they need to avoid unhealthy and unsafe situations. And more importantly, you want to be the one they come to for answers.

Good luck!

Lisa Frederiksen, researcher, writer, speaker, consultant.

Mother of 2 daughters, ages 24 & 22.

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