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Ask The Expert: How Do You Know What’s Normal with Sex Ed for Teens?

Dear Your Teen:

As my son has gotten older, I have found it difficult to find other moms who want to share information about certain aspects of our kids’ lives. College seems like a safe conversation. Bullying seems to be safe too. But anything sexual seems off-limits. I know that boys have wet dreams but I have no idea what is normal. I don’t even know what questions to ask. Do you know what “normal” is? As a parent, what should I ask?

EXPERTS | Jennifer Wider, M.D. and Logan Levkoff, Ph.D.

There is such a wide-range of “normal” when it comes to puberty. We often tell other parents that puberty is an “individual sport.” Try not to focus on what is happening with your child’s best friend. For the most part, everyone eventually catches up. It is sometimes comforting to speak with other parents of teenagers about what is going on with their children, but try to pick friends that you have open an relationship with, so the conversations flow naturally. The limits are self-imposed; everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to speaking about certain topics. Choose friends that share similar values and ideas. We believe in acknowledging the discomfort with your fellow parents. One way to approach a friend is, “I know that this may be an uncomfortable question to ask, but….”

Normal Sexuality: Talking To Teens About Sex

Many parents of teenagers would prefer to put their heads in the sand than initiate a conversation about sex and sexuality with their kids. But trust us, they are going to learn about it anyway. They will hear things from their friends, older siblings, on television shows and YouTube. Sex is everywhere. And what they pick up from other sources may be far less accurate than what you can tell them. An open dialogue with your teen about sex and sexuality will ensure that they receive accurate, reliable information, as well as messages consistent with your personal values.

So when you check in with your son, take cues from his language, what he’s watching, and what his friends are talking about. There’s no set time to initiate this dialogue, we believe it should be as ongoing as possible. If you’re living in radio silence, ask him if he has any questions. If he doesn’t, watch his favorite show with him, pick up the book that he’s reading, watch a music video together. There will be plenty of material to go on; so just wait for an opportunity to bring something up and start the conversation that way.

Letting your child know that you’ve been there and that you are available to answer any question he (or she) has will go a long way. So many kids are worried about the impending changes that puberty brings along, they feel like they are the only ones in the world getting their periods, growing body hair, dealing with acne and body odor. Let them know that everyone goes through this; that it’s just part of growing up.

Jennifer Wider, MD and Logan Levkoff, PhD

Jennifer Wider and Logan Levkoff, co-authors of Got Teens, created the Doctor Moms to address the most cringeworthy and difficult questions that kids often ask their parents.