Or to read their teen's journal—be it an online diary or a lined book filled with loopy script that was left spread-eagle and spine-up near the family computer. Even without any solid evidence or direct testimony, there are clues when a teen is embarking on a journey for which his or her parents did not plan the itinerary: Even though we know teens have a social life that frequently doesn't include adult supervision, the oft-sudden realization that they may be hiding such an important part of their lives can be a startling wake-up call.
Just as a teenager's life gets more complicated, the stakes get higher: At the same time, from a developmental standpoint, teens are supposed to be pulling away from the adults in their lives. In a sense, this pulling-away is good for both parents and teens: But at the same time, many teens do not have the maturity, judgment, or sophistication to make possibly life-changing decisions regarding sex without the input of an older, wiser adult.
So, that's the bind we find ourselves in, needing to: On the front lines of this communication gap, many parents and other adults who care about teens have pulled me aside to ask, "What's going on with my teenager? Is my teen in love? Ever since I began communicating with teens more than a decade ago as the "Sex and Body" columnist for Seventeen magazine, teens have been telling me what they consider to be their deepest, darkest secrets—secrets they are too afraid or too embarrassed to reveal to their parents, their teachers, or the adult in their lives they feel closest to.
Often, these are secrets teens think adults can't handle. Most of the parents I speak to want to know more about what's going on with their teen's life, not to persecute them or put them on "lockdown," but to help them. Teens Want to Close the Communication Gap As I was starting research for this book, I sent an e-mail to teens saying, "Listen, I know it can be hard to talk about sex, so if you tell me your secret thoughts, feelings, and actions, I'll share your words in a book, to help adults understand where you're coming from and how best to help you.
I'll keep my most intimate thoughts to myself if it's all the same to you. This is, in part, because of the embarrassment factor. And anecdotal as well as scientific research and good common sense tells us that teens, like children of all ages, are loath to disappoint their parents. So kudos to you for educating the 'rents on what's going on. They want parents know what's going on.
They just don't want to be the ones to bring it up. What's really going on You don't have to look too hard in your local paper, on the news, or yes, even in my e-mail inbox, to find panic-inducing stories about teens having group sex at parties or on buses or playing sex games and getting pregnant at tender ages—these rumors and trends are addressed in the next chapter. In this chapter, I want to provide the big picture: These statistics and revelations are based on my interviews and contact with teenagers, as well as national surveys, including my nationwide Teens: Knowing the truth about teens and sex is the first step to helping teenagers sift through the ever-changing choices and vital decisions they will make in the coming years.
And, happily for both parents and teens, no one's diary will be read in the process. Good news first There is always plenty of negative news about teens behaving badly and how sexual and sexually active teens are today. But in truth, over the past 15 years some very positive trends concerning teens and sex have been evolving.
So even though the bad news about teens is often the loudest, it's not the only news to pay attention to. Nationwide, just under half of all teenagers— I consider myself funny, helpful, and athletic. I'm into sports and hanging out with friends, at the movies and the mall.
I know many more people who have lost it this year in 9th grade. I also know that many people who have had sex at our school don't tell people about it. I don't know why, maybe because they don't want their parents to end up finding out. I don't think it's cool to have sex. It's way too early, and I don't think we should. Yes I am a virgin, I have been offered to have sex, but I don't want to. It's too early, and I just don't want to take that chance of having a baby. So it doesn't matter if parents value delaying sex until marriage, or until after high school, or until there is a committed and loving relationship in place.
What do teens think about teens being virgins? And although there has been a decline in sexual activity among teens under 15, nearly one-third of ninth graders are still having sex. At what age are teens losing their virginity? How often are sexually active teens having sex? Of sexually active boys ages 15 to For obvious reasons, this statistic in particular gives pause to many people who dedicate their lives to helping teens avoid unplanned pregnancy and STDs.
Not just hooking up, but getting out of control with hooking up. They don't even feel one should have romance together to have sex with somebody. And the guys enjoy it. Nobody gets a bad reputation from it either. Word gets around quickly in my school about who's dating who and who's sleeping with you. There are groups of kids at my school who like to sleep around.
Others, such as myself, believe there should be feelings, romance, and more between the couple to have sex. Likewise, teenagers have a somewhat expanded definition of what it means to lose one's virginity: Is someone who doesn't have sexual intercourse but does do "everything but" still considered a virgin?
It speaks to the new and shifting boundaries and new ways of talking and thinking about sex that this is no longer the case. I will add, though, that in my experience when teens are talking about themselves i. How do teens define "sex"? When they use the phrase "having sex," either in reference to themselves or others, they are often referring to sexual intercourse but they may also be talking about other sexual acts.
But these definitions, like so many in the Teen Lexicon, are fluid—it's worth asking teenagers questions to confirm exactly what they're talking about. Interestingly, sometimes the discovery is that the teenager himself is not sure. When and where are teens having sex? It is often commonly assumed that teens are having sex between 3 and 6 p.
But recent studies show that sex between teens generally takes place in the evening after 6 p. Knowing this, I wondered how many parents were actually at home while these teens were fooling around. So I included that question in the Truth survey: Do you know a teen who has had sex at home while their parents were in the house? How can parents tell if their teen is having sex? Sure, these statistics are all very interesting—and right now parents may be rethinking that "open-door" policy that used to seem so restrictive but now suddenly sounds like a good idea.
The number one question I get from parents is, "How can I tell if my teen is having sex? Unless the parents and teen are extraordinarily close or the teen has sex for the first time when she's in her late teens, the parents probably won't get to know for sure exactly when it happens.
Loss of virginity is just not something teens are necessarily motivated to share with their parents—they know this is news that will, in all likelihood, not be met with enthusiasm.
If you want to know if your teenager is having sex, ask them; it's the only way to know. If we lie to you and give you the answer you want, it's because we don't want to disappoint you or. I won't lie, sex is fun. We like to be sexy and have sex. So many teenagers are sexually active, but that does not mean they are ready for it. Don't hold back from 'the talk' or sharing information hoping that it will protect your children, because it only hurts them when they get the wrong information.
Sex is everywhere, and we can't change that—we can only learn from it. Some say they don't want their parents to worry, while others say they just know their parents especially the fathers of girls would be really sad to know they are fooling around.
Still other teens tell me that while they wouldn't lie to their parents if asked outright, they're not offering up the information, either. Are you keeping a secret from your parents about whether you're sexually active? Hard as it may be for some parents to digest, from the standpoint of protecting teens, it doesn't matter if parents know exactly when they start having sex. What matters is that teens have the information they need to be protected physically and emotionally so they don't make dangerous choices based on faulty logic.
There is advice on how to do this in the "real-world advice" section of each chapter. However, I can't recommend strongly enough that parents not corner their teenager and try to extract a confession. Making a teen feel like he can't talk about sex without being judged or attacked will make it far less likely that he'll ever bring up the topic again, even when he really needs help or advice.
Compelling as it may seem, sifting through a teen's e-mails or reading her diary are measures that should be used only in cases of true emergency. It's such a major invasion that if a parent gets caught which is likely—teens have safeguards in place to fiercely guard their privacy , it can take a long time to rebuild that trust and credibility again—both of which are crucial to parents who want to guide their teens' choices.
Teens are exploring dangerous territory, without a map Many teens tell me that they expect to sort through the questions, decisions, and issues concerning sex and sexuality alone.
Some feel like they don't want to worry their parents. Others feel their parents have full plates and shouldn't be burdened with too much information.
Still others don't want to disappoint their parents, don't want to invite too much inquiry into their personal lives, or simply assume their parents don't care to know. Teens often tell me their belief that "what a parent doesn't know won't hurt them" is fostered by their parents' reaction whenever the teen does try to bring up a sensitive topic, especially sex.
They tell me about parents who get angry or seem embarrassed or otherwise act in a way that makes the teen conclude this topic is off-limits. Something to note here is that teens will ascribe feelings to the adults in their lives that the adults themselves may not necessarily hold, based on things that are not said, tone of voice, or body language alone.
So even if a parent is comfortable talking about sex with his or her teen but hasn't brought it up out of respect for the teen's privacy, the teen may assume that the parent doesn't want to talk about it, or that his parent would be angry or uncomfortable if the teen brought it up.
And so the communication gap widens. What he means is: They get driving lessons.