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Sexually active teen: Counsel without condoning?

QUESTION: I am sure my 16-year-old daughter is sexually active with her steady boyfriend. I do not approve of sexual activity at this young age, but I want to make sure she is taking the proper precautions. How can I ensure this without seeming to condone her behavior?

ANSWER: Your reasons for wanting your daughter to wait before becoming sexually active may still be relevant, whether or not she is indeed having sexual relations with her boyfriend. It is likely that it is your own discomfort in bringing up the topic that has left your daughter to decide for herself, rather than seek your guidance. Still, it is not too late to share your views!

FIRST: Establish a connection
Consider taking your daughter out for a special evening, or ask her to join you on a walk for some ice cream, or other relaxed destination. Let her know that you would like to connect with her around the topic of her life and her relationship. Sensitively, ask her about the nature of her feelings, with the intent to understand her experience of being 16, and the meaning of her relationship with her boyfriend. Share with her your experience of being 16, too. Allow a rapport to develop between you, so views can be shared.

SECOND: Bring up the topic
Let her know that you have concerns about sexuality at her age and you know it is somewhat uncomfortable, but that you care about her and want to discuss whether she is having sex, and the topic of "safe sex" if indeed she is sexual.

THIRD: Have a discussion about sex
Express your views and the reasons for them. Be willing to listen to her views, too. If necessary, agree to disagree. But do not stop there! Let her know that you have her best interests at heart. And that you are aware that she is of an age that she is beginning to make her own decisions in life. Although you cannot "control" her choices, you want to be able to have discussions that can inform or guide her as she begins to make her way in the world.

FOURTH: Remain neutral, rather than judgmental or controlling
Keep in mind that your child will make mistakes. Misjudgments are an inevitable part of life. Keeping yourself neutral enough to nurture a discussion with her about your views on this or any other topic, (and your views on her choices!) is not a matter of "condoning", but a matter of staying connected. Making yourself available for contact on heated issues assures that you will stay in touch with her, rather than become alienated as she approaches adulthood.

Sharing your views at this time will not erase the past, but it can help her avoid unsafe sex, and shed light on the future!

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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