It's the hot, must-have Hollywood accessory. When 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, Britney's little sister with the good-girl image and a starring role on the Nickelodeon television series "Zoey 101," revealed her "baby bump," the tabloids went crazy with the customary candid shots and celebrity well-wishes. But when 17 girls from Gloucester High School in Massachusetts showed up with their own baby bumps – the result of a pregnancy pact gone horribly right – critics cried foul. Could it be that Miss Spears has set a dangerous precedent? Perhaps a better question is, where were their mothers?
Teenagers are strong-willed, certainly, but girls who receive open, honest guidance from their mothers experience greater success through the troublesome teen years, according to psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini and nurse practitioner Janine J. Sherman, authors of "Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom about Health, Sex, or Whatever " (Bayou Publishing).
"Teens today, more than ever, face a myriad of issues involving sex and sexuality. They need education, they need guidance, and they need support to make the right decisions," Rapini stresses.
Chances are you've already had The Big Talk with your teenage daughter, but a quick discussion about the birds and the bees just isn't enough. "With so many factors confronting teens these days, from celebrity-worship to peer pressure, girls face an almost unending barrage of new ideas. They need someone to help filter all of that information," Sherman points out. "An open, ongoing dialogue is much more effective than one big lecture about boys and sex."
But, that's not as simple as it sounds. Girls are often reluctant to approach their mothers for advice for fear of punishment or lecture, or simply because they are embarrassed of the issue itself. Rapini and Sherman advocate "table talk" as a way for mothers and daughters to connect. By establishing trust and being accessible, moms have the chance to share their thoughts and beliefs and establish a benchmark for making smart choices about sex. The goal of table talk is to share accurate information in a relaxed manner.
Any time is a good time to open the dialog with your daughter, just make sure you're both on neutral ground so she doesn't see the conversation as a lecture – and let her do the talking at first. Rapini and Sherman suggest several ways to get the ball rolling:
- Take a long walk together, and let the conversation go where it may.
- Take a car ride together and listen to music. The lyrics can spur great conversations.
- Try working out together and initiate conversation while you hit the treadmills.
- Pick your daughter up from school and spend some time talking quietly over drinks
at the local coffeehouse.
- Get up early and have a quiet breakfast together before the rest of the family wakes up.
- Take a class together. Knitting, pottery painting and yoga can be productive conversation-enhancing hobbies.
Let your daughter bring up the topics that are most relevant to her. Don't worry – there will be plenty of opportunities to share your words of wisdom. Just talk and listen, then listen some more. The goal is to be open, accessible, and on her side. "If she sees she can trust you and that you won't judge her, but rather help her, she will open up more and more," Sherman says.
Respond to your daughter's questions about boys, relationships and sex openly. If she asks about your own teen years, be honest, but be sure to stress the consequences of your actions. Girls deserve straightforward answers to their questions. "If your daughter is mature enough and is asking honestly, I believe an honest answer is best," Rapini emphasizes. "Realize, though, that not all information is meant to be shared at once. Your primary goal is to connect, support, and instruct."
Ultimately, the conversation is bound to land on tricky territory. Talks about abstinence, birth control, premarital sex and sexually transmitted diseases might send moms into a panic, but dismissing your daughter's questions is not an option. If she doesn't hear it from you, magazines with articles like, "How to get him to notice you," or movies that portray sex as quick hook-ups and instant gratification might be her only education. And if you're waiting for her high school health class to fill her in, that may come too late or not at all.
Thanks to legislation enacted in 1996, the federal government limits funding for sex education programs in public schools to those with an abstinence-only curriculum. Such programs focus on sex after marriage with no mention of birth control, safe sex practices or pre-marital sex. While abstinence is a great idea, it's not the most realistic approach.
A recent study from the Guttmacher Institute in New York City, a leading think tank on sexual and reproductive health issues, revealed a shocking 75 percent of females have had premarital sex by the age of 20, and fewer than 10 percent of sexually active teens use condoms.
As a result, adolescents have the highest prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, and teen pregnancy rates are on the rise for the first time in 15 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"The world has changed since we were in school. The U.S. now has the highest rate of teen pregnancy of all developed countries. This shows that girls are not getting the information and the guidance they need to make intelligent, informed decisions," Sherman sadly reports. "The conversation has to start at home. You are the most influential teacher your daughter has. What you tell her will have more of an impact than anyone else."
Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever by Mary Jo Rapini and Janine J. Sherman features succinct yet lively answers, sample conversations, and real life stories to help open the door to better mother/daughter communication. Rapini and Sherman have compiled more than 113 questions girls (and their moms) routinely ask – or should be asking – about health, sex, body image, and dating.
My daughter is thirteen and I am worried she may have already been offered alcohol by friends and acquaintances at school. Is it too late for me to have a conversation with her about drugs and alcohol? How should I respond when she asks if "I ever did drugs"? The answer is yes, but I don't want to set a bad example or encourage her to do so.
- Dena in Katy
Your question is timely and so important. It is never too late for you to talk with your daughter about drugs and alcohol—in fact the sooner the better. Kids need "refreshers of information" just as adults do. You can begin at the age of eight, eleven or thirteen by talking about living healthy which includes never smoking, drinking or taking drugs that aren't prescribed by a medical professional. The important thing is to begin talking.
I have included a few important tips in regards to talking with your daughter about drugs and alcohol.
Dena, being a good parent is a difficult task, but you are on theright path because you are trying to do it well. I commend you and believe yourefforts with raising your daughter will bring you great joy in the future. Nothingmakes a parent happier than to raise a well-adjusted child who can continue togrow and make the world a better place to live in.
On the Web:
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