For many parents, “The Sex Talk” is a dreaded milestone, falling somewhere between a root canal and an audit from the IRS on a scale of unpleasantness.

In reality, however, talking to your teen about sex shouldn’t just be one major conversation, but a pattern of open discussion that begins before puberty, and continues through young adulthood. As parents, it’s important to share our values and views about relationships, as well as the mechanics of sexual development and critical health information about safe sex, disease prevention and avoiding pregnancy.

However, today’s teens have even more issues related to sex than past generations. Now, parents must address sexual development pitfalls that are new threats – like sexting.

Sexting – sharing sexualized digital photos with others through text, email or social media, often cell phone to cell phone – is gaining speed among young adults.  In a 2008 survey of 1,280 teenagers and young adults of both sexes sponsored by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens (13-20) had sent nude or semi-nude photographs of themselves electronically. Additionally, 39 percent of teens had sent sexually explicit text messages.

Teens are by nature impulsive and not mature enough to understand or consider the long-lasting impact of their actions. If your teen shares a sext with her significant other, she probably assumes it will be kept private. Unfortunately, it is all too easy for these messages to go viral, being sent from teen to teen or sometimes even posted publically to personal blogs or social media sites. This can have a huge negative impact on your teen’s self esteem, resulting in feelings of shame, embarrassment, depression and betrayal. Externally, sexting can also damage her social environment, creating the potential for exclusion, problems at school and a damaged reputation.

In some instances, the ramifications can extend beyond social harm. Parents and teens alike need to understand that sexting can result in criminal charges that can follow them into adulthood. Sexting that involves a minor sending an explicit photograph of herself to her peers is considered distribution of child pornography – even if the photo subject and photo distributor are the same person. Some teenagers who have texted photographs of themselves, or of their friends or partners, have been charged with distribution of child pornography, while those who have received the images have been charged with possession of child pornography.

Other concerns – from immodest clothing choices, to oversexualized TV and music geared toward teens – also must be clearly addressed with teens – preferably before they become an issue. Creating a family culture of sharing these concerns, and encouraging open dialogue about even the most uncomfortable topics is the best way to make sure you know how your teen is feeling – and she understands your expectations for her behavior.

To protect your teen, parents must discuss sex well before it actually becomes a real issue. Create an environment of openness with your daughter – encourage her to come to you with questions and concerns, no matter what the topic. Establish clear rules and expectations for her behavior when using social media or cell phones, and create set consequences for missteps, like losing access to her Facebook account, or taking away her phone. Monitor usage, and intervene immediately if you suspect your teen is participating in inappropriate chatter or image sharing.

Perhaps more importantly, though, talk to your teen about self-respect. Remind her of the importance of modesty and upholding her values – even when her developing feelings of sexuality and the confusing emotions of adolescence provide distractions.

To learn more about how to talk to your teen about sex, contact Compass Rose Academy today.