Question: We just found out that our teenager has been sexually active for the past several months. Needless to say, we’re shocked and dismayed, but we want to handle the situation wisely. How do we deal with the problem without alienating our child? What should we do to make sure the behaviour stops and doesn’t recur?


Your question indicates that you’re a thoughtful, caring and sensitive parent. Since this is the case, you probably don’t need us to tell you that blowing up, finger wagging, lecturing and name-calling aren’t going to be particularly helpful. This is a significant family problem and it deserves a loving and thoughtful response. The goal is to contain the damage and coach your adolescent toward more healthy and rational decisions without driving a wedge into the parent-child relationship.

The first thing you need to remember is to think before you react. It’s normal to feel upset and disappointed, and you will probably need a couple of days to settle down. We suggest you take some time to cool off and then arrange a meeting to sit down and talk about what has happened. This will probably be more appropriate than risking a volatile, spur-of-the-moment confrontation.

Ask open-ended questions

When the time for this discussion arrives, try to ask open-ended questions ("Can you tell me about your relationship with _____?") rather than judgmental ones ("How could you have done this?"). Listen to the whole story before offering your viewpoint. Editorial comments will shut off communication in a hurry. Put the emphasis on the big picture and explain how premarital sexual activity jeopardizes all of your adolescent’s future goals and dreams. And whatever you do, don’t tear down your teenager’s sense of self-worth with comments like, "I am so ashamed of you!"

On the practical side, be sure to get the necessary medical input. A doctor’s evaluation should be on the agenda to check for STIs (and for girls, to obtain a Pap test or perhaps a pregnancy test). Be sure to select your health care provider carefully – your adolescent is less likely to choose abstinence in the future if he or she has a doctor who feels that teens can’t control their sexual urges. Be ready to take any action appropriate to deal with the logistical aspects of the situation – for example, to address the underlying issues behind the behaviour, to prepare for a possible pregnancy and to repair the emotional damage done. You may also need to have one or more candid conversations with your teen’s partner and with his or her parents. Dating and other socializing patterns that may have increased the chances for intimacy should be reassessed and restructured.

Seek outside counselling

Finally, you should seriously consider getting your son or daughter (and yourself) into counselling. A wise counsellor may be able to talk more candidly with your teenager about sexuality while simultaneously promoting a decision to remain abstinent in the future. Sexual activity may be a symptom of more basic problems that need ongoing work. Be prepared to put in time with the counsellor yourself to deal with the causes and effects of this problem within your family.

Focus on the Family Canada’s counselling department can provide you with referrals to qualified Christian therapists practicing in your area. Our staff counsellors are also available to discuss your situation with you over the phone. You can reach them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They’ll be more than happy to assist you in any way they can.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 1997, 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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