Flashing Yellow Lights--

-warning signs that your teen may be in trouble
-what you can do

Research on teen sexual behavior shows that teens often have a number of predictors that will signify that they are on the way to premarital sexual activity.  One of the highest indicators is the use of alcohol, drugs, or tobacco.  Many youth surveys show that the use of tobacco is the pre-cursor to using other drugs or alcohol.

Teens who are struggling with the pain of substance abuse at home come to school burdened and stressed, and are often unable to concentrate of their work.  If your family is dealing with the substance abuse issues, it is absolutely necessary that the person who is addicted to the behavior and the entire family get help.  Your attitude toward these issues definitely affects how your teen views these risk behaviors.  Seek help immediately through a community program, medical center, or church so that further damage can be prevented.

If you as a family are not struggling with these issues, it is very important to make your teen aware of the role drugs, alcohol, inhalants, and tobacco play in teen sexual activity.  There are other risk factors that play into early sexual activity, such as not feeling connected to school, work, or the world at large.  Adolescence is a time of trying to figure life's issues out. 


Opened-ended questions to help open discussion:

1.  What do your friends and peers think about using drugs, alcohol or inhalants?  Do you feel any pressure to join them?  How easy do people at school feel it is to get drugs?

2.  Do most people your age think nothing will happen to them if they are taking drugs?  Drinking?  Smoking?  Using inhalants?  What do you think about that? 

3.  If you had a friends who was using drugs, inhalants, or drinking or smoking, what would you do?  Is it any of your business?

4. Do you think about what types of things happen when you use drugs or alcohol?  How many people do you know who would ride in a car with someone who drinks or uses drugs and drives?

5.  Do you think people use drugs or drink because they:  (a) want to be cool?  (b) are trying to hide pain or are not confronting something? (c) think it helps them cope better? (d) just like how it feels? (e) like the thrill?  What do you think about that?

6.  How hard or easy would it be for you to walk away from people who uses drugs, drink, smoke or use inhalants?  Do you know what addiction looks like?

7.  How do you see the media portraying the use of alcohol, inhalants, or smoking?   Does that say anything to you?  Do you believe they are portraying the truth?  Why or why not?

8.  Is there anything I need to understand about this issue that I am missing?  Do you understand our values and expectations in this area? 

Premarital sex is NOT inevitable.  Supplying teens with condoms and information about other forms of birth control may seem the open-minded thing to do these days.  However, there are many reasons and risks that let us know immediately that open approval of pre-marital sex is foolish:  the risk of STDs, distorted relationships, damaged identities and disrupted marital bonding later in life, the risk of death, stunted emotional growth, and the moral issues involved.

If you think or know that your teen is already sexually active, consider these helpful and rational ideas to take the next step in communicating with your teenager about changing behavior:

Think before you react.  Take some time to digest the information that you have just learned.  A heated confrontation will cause more damage and will shut down the lines of communication.
Ask open-ended questions.  An example might be, "Would you tell me about your relationship with . . . ?"  Avoid judgmental questions and an accusatory tone of voice.  Listen to all that your child will offer you before you offer your own viewpoint.  Body language can either keep communication open or shut it down. 
Put the emphasis on the big picture.  Premarital sexual activity jeopardizes goals that you and your child both desire for their lives:  a long and healthy life, meaningful relationships and freedom from unnecessary turmoil.  Be prepared to explain why. 
Don't tear down your teenager's sense of worth.  Negative comments about shame and anger can cause the teen to feel worthless.  Feeling rejected by a parent can drive adolescents to sexual activity.  Be an example.  Your own sense of identity and conviction that one's future is worth protecting says a lot to your child.  Practice forgiveness and grace.
Stress the importance of new beginnings.  Many teens who have been sexually active are committing to secondary virginity.  They are taking a stand to postpone further sexual relationships until marriage.  Actively encourage a decision like this.  Without positive reinforcement and encouragement, they may feel that it's too late and doesn't matter anymore, which can lead to more negative decisions.

Get medical input.  A doctor's evaluation should be on the agenda to check for STDs.  For young women, it is also important to have a Pap test and perhaps a pregnancy test.  Choose your provider carefully.  It won't help your adolescent choose abstinence if he or she has a physician who feels that teen can't control their sexual urges and who emphasizes the different methods of contraception.

Strongly consider getting your son or daughter (and yourself) into counseling.  A good counselor will be able to talk and listen to your teen about sex and sexual activity.  Being sexually active may be a symptom of deeper issues that need more attention.  Be prepared to spend time with the counselor so that you can deal with the causes and effects of this problem within your family.

Be prepared to take action.  Different ages may require different plans of action.  A 12 or 13-year old has experienced a serious breach of physical and emotional boundaries; a great deal of work -by teachers, counselors, parents, physicians, and others- will be necessary to repair the damage.

Tough conversations between you and your child's partner, and their parents, may be needed.  Relationships may need to be terminated, and tighter supervision and accountability will need to be implemented.

If the activity involves an adult having sexual relations with an adolescent, legal action may be necessary.

Much of the information on this page is from "Let's talk about Sex:  A Guide for Parents of Teens," published by Focus on the Family



Abstinence Educators' Network, Inc.,
P.O. Box 531, Mason, Ohio 45040
Phone (513) 398-9801   Fax (513) 398-3624