Talking to Teens About Sex and Substance Abuse
Even before young people begin talking about dating or who is “seeing” whom, it’s time to bring up the subject of sex. Don’t wait for an opening or the right time. Just do it. The way you address the topic with boys and with girls will differ, but the basic message is the same. Sex is a very serious matter and can have profound, life-altering consequences. And, in the case of disease, those consequences can even be deadly.
Boys and girls should know that many thoughtful and sophisticated people believe in sexual abstinence prior to marriage. They can present some powerful moral and religious and practical arguments in favor the idea. The same arguments hold water in the case of avoiding casual sex and waiting until a serious, committed relationship exists before having sex.
Girls need to be armed with reasons for saying no and a way to say it without using crushing, sarcastic, or insulting language. Men who have been turned down in a nice way sometimes become great friends or even husbands later on. Girls can say, “I’m not ready for that kind of relationship. I’d like to continue seeing you, but I’m not ready to have sex with you.” If the other person persists, a girl can simply say that she has made up her mind to wait until marriage.
Your daughter should know that, no matter what they say, young men respect a woman with moral conviction, self-discipline, self-respect, and virtue. If the man is attracted to the woman and respects her, he will not be driven away by a polite or even flattering rejection.
Tell her that her youth is essentially over and her life is changed forever when a girl gets pregnant.
Tell your son about what AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases do to the body. Tell him that condoms are not a magical solution. Mistakes happen and have profound consequences.
Tell him that a “man who’s a man,” has self-control and moral integrity, that he respects women and treats them as equal human beings and as emotional and intellectual partners.
A father who wants his son to have a healthy attitude toward women does not use words like broads, does not snigger about sexual stereotypes of women, and does not make crude sexual jokes. He understands how compelling sexual appetites can be but knows that self-control, common sense, and respect for others are of utmost importance.
The Truth About Substance Abuse
You should be talking to your children about drugs long before you have a heart-to-heart discussion of sex. It’s never too early to say drugs are bad, that drugs hurt your body, and that we should feel sorry for people who use drugs.
Young people can easily get the idea that drugs, tobacco, and alcohol are part of a dark and dangerous, fascinating and adult world. The truth of the matter—and the truth it’s up to you to bring home—is that the drug scene is shabby and sordid and apt to be infested with twisted, dangerous people.
Your children should know that, sooner or later, someone will approach them with illegal drugs, maybe even offering to let them puff on a marijuana joint. He or she will tell your children that “it’s no big deal” and “mild.” It’s up to you to let them know that no drug is mild. All drugs will alter the people who take them and diminish those people in some way. Tell your children that people who offer them drugs are merchants of death.
Throughout childhood, from kindergarten on, you can do a lot by warning children of the dangers that lie ahead. It’s like the wicked witch and the poisoned apple. These warnings, however, should be accompanied by the reassurance that people can always just say no and walk away.
Teenagers are most vulnerable to drugs. Their peers who do drugs often appear to be the cool ones, the brave, rebellious ones. You should always know what your teenagers are doing in their spare time. Keep them from visiting homes where you know there is drinking or drug use.
When you warn youngsters about alcohol abuse, hit them with the hard truths. People who abuse alcohol suffer brain, liver, and heart damage. They become bloated, red-faced, nutritionally starved. They end up weak, stupid, and sick.
When it comes to social drinking, warn them that even a small amount of alcohol has its effects. If your youngsters find themselves in a situation where they feel strong social pressure to drink, as at a college party, they can sip slowly, eat plenty, and drink water to minimize the effect of the alcohol.
Perhaps the strongest argument you can make about drugs, alcohol, and tobacco is the one you make by staying away from all three yourself.
The Big Question
The questions about dating, parties, and meeting people may eventually give way to the more serious questions: Is this the real thing? Am I in love?
Of course, you can’t give this question a yes or no answer. What you can do when this question arises is talk about the elements that make relationships between people of any age work.
- Honesty. Can you be truthful with this person? Can you be yourself? Do you really like heavy-metal music, or are you just listening to it because your partner does? Are you going places and doing things and saying things just to please the other person, or because you want to?
- Support. Do you support and praise each other? Offering your support, though, doesn’t mean you have to agree all the time. Players on the same sports team don’t always agree on the next move, but after the decision is made, they honor and back it 100 percent.
- Friendship. Are you the other person’s best friend? Do you show that you are listening and trying to understand his or her feelings? Never dismiss the feelings of a friend as silly or unimportant.
- Faithfulness. Do you stick by each other when disappointments arise? Do you try to see disappointments through the other person’s eyes?
- Respect for others. Do both of you respect important people in each other’s life? Maybe you would rather be bitten by a snake than visit your friend’s parents, but you go anyway, you are polite, and you don’t complain about the visit later, no matter how awful it was.
- Fun. Do you have fun together? Laugh a lot? Shared laughter is a sign of an easy relationship.
- Giving space. Can you accept the fact that the other person has his or her own life? Everybody needs time alone. Possessiveness is unnecessary in a healthy relationship.
It’s tough enough, what with all the changes going on in their bodies and their heads, with new situations, new people, complex problems, and murky waters. Why make it tougher by telling young people that there are no rules or that rules are meant to be broken? It is a comfort and a steadying beacon for young people to know the rules and guidelines for interpersonal behavior—even if they are ignored.
More on: Manners
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Etiquette © 2004 by Mary Mitchell. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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