May 27, 2014 10.01 am This story is over 91 months old

Talking to your teenager about healthy relationships, sex and the internet

Expectations vs reality: “Our teenagers are living in a highly sexualised era, so how can we be sure of the quality of information they are receiving?” asks Elizabeth Hicks.

It would be easy nowadays to think that our teenagers know far more about relationships and sex than we did at their age and that we don’t need to add our ‘penny’s worth’ into the mix. However, whilst our teenagers are living in a highly sexualised era, how can we be sure of the quality of information they are receiving?

As young people’s ideas about sex are getting more and more shaped by media, celebrities, social media, internet porn and chat sites, how do they determine what is factual, myth or untruth?

Our young people form important early messages about sex and relationships both through the way we talk to them about it and through how we role model our own relationships.

Teenage friendships and relationships can be intense and volatile and can impact your teenager’s day to day life. We often see the result of this, but are not always privy to what is going on for them as peers become very important for support at this age.

It may be helpful to discuss with them about respect within a relationship and what a ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ relationship might look like — value and respect their opinions and thoughts whilst having your own view point too. The way relationships are formed and maintained and the ‘norms’ around this are constantly changing both for young people and adults.

Internet porn may inform your teenager’s views about sex. Porn can be unrealistic due to editing, but also places expectations on the viewer as to what may be ‘normal’. It can distort people’s views on what intimacy is and how it is achieved.

Masturbation is a normal part of adolescence, but for some the use of internet porn and increasingly excessive masturbation may become an issue. The internet can encourage the viewer to access more extreme porn over time, which they may not be emotionally prepared for.

It is good to talk to them about the dangers of becoming desensitized or putting themselves at risk. Young people can use excessive masturbation as a means to ‘self soothe’ or relieve boredom. Encourage them to play sport or explore other ways in which they can learn to calm themselves and aid relaxation.

With the use of social media young people can connect instantly and wherever they are to others. The danger of this is that their own personal space can be invaded and responses can be instant without allowing time to calm down or think through. Other people can then also join in and negative situations can arise quickly.

Remind your teen that a good rule of thumb is to not say anything by text or social media that they wouldn’t say to that person face to face and to encourage them to step back and explore different points of view. Discuss with them the impact of negative comments on others; cyber bullying can have a profound impact.

Also look out for your teenager becoming increasingly withdrawn, irritable or secretive and be mindful of what may be going on for them in their cyber world. People also tend to see internet space as ‘not real’ so can take more risks. Remind them that once a message or photograph is on the internet, it can never be fully retrieved and is in the public domain. Think about putting in place rules about having some time, especially late at night with limited or no access to their phone or computer to allow them some space to unwind and relax.

Be interested in them and their friends and use conversations to build up their self esteem and confidence whilst role modelling how to deal with conflict and dilemmas in a constructive way.

Being a parent of a teenager can sometimes be challenging; you are encouraging them to develop their own identity but within boundaries and them testing this out is all part of the process. Arguing is a way of them developing their own opinions and sense of self and they test this out in the family home and within friendships.

If you find it difficult to talk to your teenager or would like some further information or advice around sex or relationships for either yourself or your teenager, two informative sites available online are here and here.

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Elizabeth works for Relate Lincolnshire as a Clinical Supervisor, Couple & Family Counsellor, Psychosexual Therapist & Sex Addiction Specialist. She has been trained by the Relate Institute, Institute of Family Therapy and Association for the Treatment of Sex Addiction & Compulsivity. She is a member of the professional bodies of COSRT, BACP & ATSAC. She has worked with a wide variety of clients and has a wealth of experience.