Puberty creates some interesting challenges for teenagers and their parents. One of the most ‘interesting’ of these challenges is the crazy rush of hormones that can drive our teens boy- or girl-crazy.
Why is my teenager so sexually aware?
As puberty commences, the adrenal gland creates androgens (hormones, including testosterone) that stimulate our teenagers’ sexual development and their sex drive. Androgens act like a biological ‘alarm’ that lets the body know it is ready to begin to reproduce. Teenagers are highly attuned and responsive to this change.
When we combine these hormonal changes with the sexual maturation of our teens’ bodies, teens’ awareness of the changes and a biological alarm that says these changes are exciting, and then we add the social impact of friends experiencing the same thing, combined with a marketing and media frenzy that sells sex, it’s little wonder that our kids become obsessed with boys, girls, and sexuality.
So how do we help our teenagers maintain their dignity, fight off those hormones, and keep sight of the big picture? And what should parents not do?
- Don’t make your kids feel like there’s something wrong with them if they suddenly develop an interest in potential romantic partners. They’re supposed to have that interest – even if we’d prefer they wait another few years!
- Don’t tease your kids for showing interest in others. Teasing can make them feel insecure about their feelings, but more than that, it can make them less likely to talk to you when they need you.
- Don’t ‘ban’ friends and relationships. Banning it won’t work. It simply pushes the relationship into the shadows where you can’t see it. (I know of one girl who was told by her dad not to call or text a boy. She just changed his name to a girl’s name in her phone and he was none the wiser.)
- Do talk about relationships a lot – and from an earlier age than you think may be necessary. Research tells us that ongoing communication between parents and teens reduces the likelihood that teens will have sex (only a little bit), and greatly increases the likelihood that they’ll be careful if/when they do. Research also tells us that teenagers are more likely to say no to unwanted sex (or sex under pressure) when they speak to their parents regularly about intimacy.
- Do make sure the communication is two-way, rather than a lecture. Studies clearly show that the effect of parent-child communication on what teens decide to do depends a LOT on who does the talking, and what is being said. The conversation must be interactive, rather than dominated by parents, to lead to ‘buy-in’ from the teenager.
- Do teach values more than behaviours. What does this mean? Our teens are more likely to resist pressures, manage their hormones, and keep their dignity when they understand and internalise ourvalues. For example, research among girls with open-minded, liberal parents shows that talking about sex with their parents is associated with more, rather than less, sexual activity – because those parents are more likely to endorse it. Comparatively, among more conservative parents, conversations with teens promote less sexual activity – but see the first two do’s to understand how and why this works.
While parents undeniably have an influence in what their teens choices are when hormones are heating up, research shows that the greatest contributors to whether they’ll keep their head and not make rash or premature decisions are:
- opportunity to have sex (such as steady relationships)
- whether their friends are sexually active, and
- their use of alcohol and other drugs.
But parents can have an impact on their children’s decisions around boyfriends and girlfriends, and their teen’s use of alcohol and drugs (and therefore, their decisions around sexual behaviour) by keeping their relationships strong and having regular and ongoing conversations with their teens where the teenager gets to do the talking.