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Birds and the bees: How should parents talk to their kids about sex?

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No parent is ever quite prepared to learn that their teenager is engaged in sexual activity. But one Phoenix expert said parents should be reasonable when they go about talking to their kids about it.

Sarah VanHolland, a counselor at Doorways in Phoenix, said parents who have found out that their teenager has done something that’s upsetting should “take a deep breath and calm down.”

“Regulate yourself, otherwise we’re going to kind of punish and react out of this really emotional, afraid, angry place,” VanHolland said.

VanHolland said based on your family’s values, finding out your teen is sexually active could be absolutely shocking and unacceptable or expected and normal. There is no “one-size fits all” approach, but generally speaking, the behavior is normal.

“Some experimentation and increased desire and focus on sex during adolescence is totally normal, that’s what’s happening to the body,” she said.

So first, parents should try to approach this with sort of a non-shaming perspective, VanHolland said.

“Typically when we shame kids for their sex and their sexuality, it tends to make those behaviors go underground,” she said. “And become something that they do in hiding and really makes the sexual behavior much unhealthier.”

But “if the sexual behavior is risky, if it’s unsafe, if it’s done in hiding or in secret, if it’s with multiple partners who are strangers, if you’re sneaking out, those are things that are serious behaviors that probably require the help of a professional.”

But all in all, parents will get more cooperation by approaching the topic in a casual, conversational, non-threatening manner.

“There’s a lot to be said about approaching this with an air of ‘I’m not going to overreact,’ she said. “As a parent we really just want them to be safe.”

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