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Question: Dear Stacy, I just found out my 16 year old daughter has been sexually active for the last year, what do I do?
Answer: Dear What Do I Do, first of all think before you react, and do not jump to conclusions.
You may be upset or disappointed, especially if they have not consulted you on the topic. You will most likely need a few days to calm down and think about how you want to approach your daughter.
Remember, you don’t want to talk at her, you want to talk with her. Keep in mind that “how you respond in body language, tone, and consequences will determine if the line of communication stays open or closed” (iMOM). You want to pick a good time and place to talk and you want to allow your daughter to share her perspective and ask questions. When talking with her, be sure to ask her open ended questions about her decision and experience.
Ask her things like, Are you safe? How are you feeling? Can you tell me about your relationship with ______? You want to make sure that she has access to and knowledge about birth control and other options available to her. The other suggestion is to not make a judgment of her or cause her to feel shame. Do not make her sexual experience about you, or that you have somehow failed as a parent(s).
Your daughter likely already knows your stance on the topic and your values, so there is no need to preach at her. If you are feeling uncomfortable discussing this with your daughter, then you may need to read up on the topic and find some reliable resources that you can use to better prepare yourself for such a discussion. One of the worst things you can do is tell them you can’t handle the situation.
On the practical side, be sure to get the necessary medical input and tests to ensure there are no STIs. Ironically, the good news is that your teen daughter is sexually active and you know about it! This means that you have the amazing opportunity to support her and be a great role model during this time in her life. Sex was most likely going to become a part of her life eventually and now it is out there.
In your heart and mind, she may still be your baby girl, but in reality, she’s on the edge of adulthood. No amount of shaming, fearmongering or pro-abstinence speeches are going to bring her back. Of course, you do not have to agree with or like her decision, and you may think it is too soon, but this is where she is. The only thing you can control in this situation is how you proceed. You cannot wrap your babies in protective bubble wrap, but you can wrap them in knowledge.
“If a teen girl is honest enough to disclose that she is sexually active, then we as adults are obligated to help navigate her through that process. A parent scheduling a visit to an OB-GYN for their teen to discuss safe sex and/or contraception, by no means acknowledges that the parent is complicit with the teen’s behavior. As a physician, instead we interpret that action as a healthy parental relationship that places a priority on the safety and well-being of their daughter.” – Dr. Sulieka JB Michel
(This information can also be applied if your son is sexually active)
Here are some resources on the topic.