Sarah Palin reveals to Barbara Walters in an upcoming TV interview that she didn’t know her daughter Bristol was having sex with her boyfriend until she learned about the pregnancy. The headline on the Comcast re-post of the AP article calls this a “bombshell” in promoting Walters’ upcoming interview for ABC. For most parents with teenagers – boys or girls – this news would generally be a bombshell. But not knowing your daughter is sexually active is not surprising, it happens all the time.
Teens are especially adept at the art of deception. Teens are also especially hormone-enriched beings with very little capacity to hold them at bay. And yet many of them do. So there is hope.
Some of these teens are fortunate to have parents who are able to speak to them openly and honestly about puberty and sexuality and birth control. Other parents believe that to bring it up at all risks sanctioning the behavior.
Families who have a strong religious faith may have trouble believing that a child is making choices that go against what they have been taught. Your child could be the leader of the youth Bible study, with perfect attendance from the day they were born, but when the hormones kick in, all bets are off. (Moral hipocrisy is no respecter of persons: I know people who were introduced to drugs by the pastor’s kids in the church parking lot!)
There are warning signs if you are paying attention. My guess is that Sarah was too distracted to notice — she was getting noticed by the big boys in the Republican party and she had to keep Alaska safe from the Russians who were visible just over the horizon. And where was daddy Todd in his daughter’s life? Both parents share the blame for being out of touch.
Here are a few of the warning signs that your daughter is sexually active: Has she started to wear a “friendship ring?” Is she staying out later than her curfew? Does she ever go out with just the girls anymore, or is her social life confined to her boyfriend? Is she dressing a little sexier than she has before? Is her boyfriend spending the night at your house on a regular basis?
One major warning sign would be if your daughter and her boyfriend are a little too comfortable being physically affectionate around you. If you catch them in a passionate embrace in your home, do not walk away embarrassed and give them their “privacy.” If you find yourself in this situation, the best thing to do is to make your presence known, (just a little “a-hem” will do) tell them that you are not comfortable with this much intimacy, and politely send the boy (or girl) home.
Once the dust settles from the fallout of you taking control of the situation for them, you can tell your teen that you will not be talking with them any further about it right now. You need time to consider what you are going to do and say. You also need to consult with your spouse so everyone is on the same page.
When you have your emotions in check and a plan that is realistic, both parents should sit down with their teen and open up about the relationship. Don’t be shy. Pry away. Because this is not about the morality of “premarital sex.” It’s about the possibility of creating another life, and the potential of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Make it clear to them that you have no intention of being the babysitter for their child while they go to school or work.
What are your parental choices here? You could have the talk and put no further restrictions on their relationship (not advised). You could restrict their dating to family outings and hanging out at your house. You could suggest that if they tell you a lie about where they will be on a date, that the truth squad will be doing random checks about their location.
Of course you are going to be called mean, unfair, horrible, and that you are making their lives a living hell because they will be a laughing-stock among their friends whose parents trust them and let them do whatever they want to do. Suck it up! It’s just the circle of life — remember when you were their age.
Many a parent who wanted to believe their teen was mature enough to handle their hormones has been on the receiving end of the “I’m pregnant.” bombshell. Have the talk early and often, expanding upon the details as your child is ready for more information. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when the lack of prevention could result in 8 pounds of bouncing baby grandchild.