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Talking to Your Daughter About Dating, Sex, and Peer Pressure

This article offers tips on how moms can help their daughters when it comes to sex, peer pressure, and dating.

Carpool made Claudia Kaufman’s ears ring. “The kids would talk about who was hooking up with who,” she says. As a mother, she wanted to know more. So she asked, “What do you mean they hooked up? Do you mean they made out? Did they have sex?”

Her daughters never told her. What they did tell her, by way of rolling eyes, was that they didn’t want to talk about it. Except maybe they did want to talk about it. After all, they brought up the subject in the car.

The mother-daughter sex talk is rarely straightforward. Your daughter already has some ideas about sex, for better or worse. It’s hard for girls to look around at billboards, magazines, movies, TV, the Internet, and not believe that being sexy will make them desirable, glamorous, and/or loved.

This article offers tips on how moms can help their daughters when it comes to sex, peer pressure, and dating.

Ignore the Rolling Eyes and Talk to Her

“The first thing mothers need to know is that they are a critical voice in their daughters’ sex education,” says Leslie Kantor, MPH, national director of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Whenever we ask kids where they get their information about sex, teens always say their #1 source is their mothers.”

The problem is, you probably won’t find the perfect time to talk about it. Kantor, who is also an assistant professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, suggests using things that happen in your daughter’s everyday life to check in. For instance:

  • If a TV program has a sexual storyline, ask how it makes her feel.
  • If one of your daughter’s friends posts something suggestive on Facebook, ask if she sees a lot of girls doing that.

Even if your daughter resists your attempts, don’t give up. The Talk is a lifelong conversation, says Kantor. “Trust that your main message is getting through.”

Do Some Soul Searching

Sex is a loaded topic at any age. If you have mixed feelings about your past or current sex life, do your best to come to terms with that before you talk to your daughter. Your best intentions will fall flat if you come across as upset, afraid, or downright angry when you talk about sex.

“Most kids want to please their parents,” says Ilana Amrani-Cohen, LICSW, PhD, director of the Families with Voices program at The Guidance Center in Cambridge, Mass. “If they see their parent getting upset, they’ll clam up.”

While fear and anxiety can make some moms go overboard, it prevents others from saying enough. Some parents think they’ve covered the bases with one or two comments, then leave their daughters to fend for themselves. Cohen suggests parents help their daughters think about what’s important to them and the kinds of choices they want to make.

Make Your Values Clear, Then Listen to Her

You might want your daughter to wait until she’s married. You might think sex is OK after a certain age, or in the context of a loving, committed relationship. “Parents play an important role in conveying their values,” says Kantor.

But before you tell your daughter exactly what she can or can’t do, understand there’s only so much you can control. Share your values, and then give your daughter room to explore her feelings. The best conversation is one that makes your daughter feel she can talk to you about anything.

Prepare Your Daughter for Peer Pressure

Peer pressure comes in many forms. It could be a boy in the back seat of a car. It could be kids at school. Or it could be your daughter’s personal desire to fit in. If she believes that everyoneelse is having sex, she may push herself, as well as her boyfriend, to move too far and too fast.

You can use facts to dispel the myth. For instance, less than half of high school students report having ever had sexual intercourse. And only 13% of teens report having sex before the age of 15. Kantor suggests statements like, “The fact is, most people your age are not having sex.”

Even as your daughter gains independence in some areas, when it comes to sex and dating you can and should stay involved.

“Parents need to set guidelines,” says Kantor. Don’t allow your daughter to spend a lot of unsupervised time with her boyfriend. And don’t allow her to date someone who is two years or more older than her. She might be relieved that she can use you as an excuse for saying no.

Admit That You Don’t Understand

What if your daughter says you don’t understand the pressure she’s facing? Agree with her, says Cohen. As a mom, you can say, “I probably don’t understand. Maybe you can help me.” Then ask open-ended questions like:

  • What are the pressures?
  • What are your friends doing?
  • How do decisions about sex get made?

If you have your daughter’s trust, you can help her think through what she would do or say when the pressure is on.

Treat Dating as a Learning Experience

Girls start dating for a lot of reasons. Dating can provide someone to go to the movies with. Girls who can change her Facebook status to in a relationship may feel a rise in social status. Often, though this probably doesn’t motivate a lot of teens, dating is a chance to deal with rejection.

On a deeper level, dating gives kids a chance to learn about relationships. If your daughter is dating, she may have stronger emotions than she’s had so far in her life. As a parent, this is one of those opportunities to help your daughter learn through experience.

“An early love relationship can be a laboratory for how to be in a healthy relationship,” says Kantor. You can promote this. Talk to your daughter about her feelings. Remind her that both she and the object of her affection are young. With a good dose of mutual respect and communication, they can learn about romance together.

If Your Daughter is Sexually Active, Stay Involved

A lot of parents make the mistake of walking away when they realize their daughter is having sex. “This is when daughters need their mothers most,” says Kantor. You still have a role in protecting your daughter’s physical and emotional health. Ask if she is using condoms or birth control. If not, bring her to a doctor who can talk with her about protecting herself from unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease.

On the emotional side, your daughter is still your daughter, despite her adult behavior. Ask her about the boy. Do they treat each other with love and respect? How has having sex affected the relationship? It’s important for her to know you’re still there for her, no matter what.

A Lifelong Conversation

Even though her mother never had The Talk with her, Kaufman felt it was her obligation to talk with her daughters about sex, dating, and peer pressure. “My main message was, ‘be your own person.’ Mostly they were uncomfortable talking about it.” Kaufman’s daughters are now in their early 20s. Sex and dating are still awkward subjects but the conversation continues.

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