Myths about sex your teen needs debunked (Part 1)

When topics become taboo, it breeds misinformation. And there are few topics more taboo – especially when it comes to talking with young people – than sex. But teenagers can and do have sex. And young people have a right to accurate, age-appropriate information about their bodies and relationships before they enter this part of adult life. Without it, they’re more likely to experience teen pregnancy, STIs and unpleasant sexual experiences. And because this topic is so shrouded in mystery, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. So much, in fact, we had to cover it in two blog posts. Here are the myths around sex that parents need to debunk with their teens.

Myth: Only ‘adults’ get STIs and teens don’t need to worry

Fact: Many STIs are actually more common in young people than older age groups. For example, in Australia, those aged between 15 and 19 had the highest rates of Chlamydia diagnoses than any other age group. Condoms are the best method of protection against STIs.

Myth: The Pill protects you from STIs  

Fact: The Pill does not protect against STIs, which are either transmitted through bodily fluids or virus shedding via the skin, but it does minimise the risk of pregnancy. Hormonal contraception might stop you from ovulating – but it’s not a barrier against STIs.

Myth: You don’t need to worry about STIs until you have symptoms

Fact: Many STIs don’t always present with noticeable symptoms. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea both often have no symptoms, and most people don’t realise when they have herpes. That’s why it’s so important if you’re sexually active to get tested regularly.

Myth: Men have their ‘sexual peak’ at 18 and women at 30

Fact: This myth is based off the fact that for people with male biochemistry, testosterone peaks at around age 18, and those with female biochemistry peak in oestrogen a decade later. But studies show that sexual desire constantly fluctuates in people of all genders. Besides, there are many more factors beyond age and hormone levels to take into account.  

Myth: The bigger the penis, the better the sex

Fact: Penises come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, as do people’s preferences. There are far more important factors for sexual compatibility, such as good communication and caring about your partner’s pleasure.

Myth: It’s normal for sex to be painful, especially the first time

Fact: This is one directed more towards people having penis in vagina penetration, but even then, it’s simply not true. Sex should never hurt. Pain is a warning sign from the body that you might not be comfortable or are pushing your body physically, and might want to slow down, take a break or stop completely. Pain during sex can also be caused by medical issues and should be looked into by a doctor if it doesn’t go away after a few weeks.  

Myth: Only gay men can become HIV positive

Fact: HIV can pass between people of all genders and sexualities. It can be spread through anal or vaginal sex without a condom if you’re not taking Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) medication. While PrEP is usually prescribed for gay men, anyone can ask their doctor for a prescription. But again, condoms are great for stopping the transmission of HIV.

Myth: You can only get STIs from penetrative sex

Fact: STIs spread from bodily fluids, which can get mixed up in other ways beyond penis-in-vagina intercourse. While vaginal and anal sex are the most likely to create transmission of STIS, many can also spread from skin-to-skin contact. Oral sex, intimate skin contact and sharing sex toys can all spread STIs. This is why using protection like condoms (male or female) and regular sexual health check-ups are so important.

Myth: You CAN’T get pregnant if it’s your first-time having sex, you wash afterwards, or you have sex in a spa

Fact: If someone ejaculates inside a vagina, no amount of water can fully wash out all the sperm (sorry everyone). Although, it can be good to wash after sex to reduce the risk of UTIs (urinary tract infections). The ‘first time’ is no magic barrier either; people can – and do – get pregnant after having sex once. 

Myth: You CAN get pregnant from oral sex or floating semen in a pool

Fact: The digestive and reproductive systems are separate. And sperm aren’t like sharks that smell blood in the water; they’re not going to hone in on a person’s eggs and swim through a pool, through both sets of labia and into their vagina. You can cross these ones off your pregnancy-scare list.

Myth: You can’t get pregnant on your period

Fact: While this is technically unlikely or uncommon, sperm can live inside the body for up to five days. So, there is a small chance of becoming pregnant after having unprotected sex during menstruation, because the surviving sperm can impregnate a person once they start ovulating again. As well as this, some people do ovulate during their periods. (Again rare, but possible.)

Bullying: when your child is the problem

We’ve talked before at length about bullying (you can read our last article on spotting and dealing with bullying here). It’s an important topic, and we’ve always explored it from the perspective of looking out for your child as a victim of bullying. But what if your child is the problem? It can be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s not an uncommon situation. Remember, their frontal lobes are far from being fully developed, and there’s nothing kids love more than to test boundaries. We don’t want to demonise children or their parents – just explore what parents can do to raise more conscientious children and help put a stop to any harmful behaviour.

How can you tell if your child is a bully?

Sometimes, you’ll just be told about it. A teacher, principal or another parent might say something to you about what your child has done or said. Otherwise, pay attention to the way your child speaks about other kids. Are they constantly criticising some, or talking about them in an aggressive or demeaning way? Also, have you noticed that they have things that don’t belong to them? This could be money, toys, games, or anything else. These all could be signs that your child is bullying others.  

Why might they be bullying others?

Bullying doesn’t always stem from trouble at home or in a child’s inner life. Sometimes it’s just a part of them growing up and learning their place in the world and how to treat others. But it can also be a sign that something is wrong.

It could be because your child is or has been bullied themselves. Try to talk to them about this and look out for warning signs such as withdrawal from social life and not wanting to go to school (again, we suggest reading this article). And remember, even if your child has been bullied, this doesn’t give them a free pass for their bullying.

Other reasons why your child might be bullying others could be because they want to fit in with others; they think this will make them avoid getting bullied themselves; they’ve seen something at home, on television or online; they’re struggling with emotion and impulse regulation; they’re trying to get attention from others they’ve failed to in other ways; they’re wanting more control in their lives; they’re suffering from depression or anxiety; or they have low self-esteem.

What to do about it

Bullying is something that the younger and earlier you can get on top of it, the better. Firstly, if the school has contacted you about your child’s behaviour – it’s likely that they also have a code and set of instructions for how to deal with the situation. Not only does that let you a little off the hook, but it means they’ll take a wholistic approach to resolving in the issue. Plus, if you support your school and what they decide is appropriate, you send the message to your child that their behaviour isn’t okay.

There are also ways you can work with your child at home. Open up communication with them. Ask them what’s going on and why they behaved this way. Let them know you’ll listen to their side of the story (while still being direct about the issue). Talk to them about respect, and not just one conversation, but ongoing conversations. Talk about how what we do affects other people, and try and get them to empathise. If they’re having trouble talking about what’s going on, you might want to consider having them see a counsellor or child psychologist.

From there, you can talk together about a plan for how you want your child to behave in the future. Game out possible situations that might bring up the bully in them, and talk about ways it could be avoided or they could act differently. We know, no one likes it, but some kind of fair and meaningful punishment is important in these situations – but not too severe or for too long. You might like to involve your child in deciding what an appropriate punishment might be. You also could encourage them to apologise and think about ways they can make amends, such as doing something nice for someone else.

Finally, kids can sometimes act out in the schoolyard what they’re picking up at home, so it’s important to role model good behaviour. Be mindful of interactions and name-calling at home. You might also want to monitor their social media for cyberbullying. And then going forward, keep an eye on your child’s behaviour and keep in contact with their teachers. If their behaviour improves, then great! Reward instances of when they’re being a good friend. If their bullying behaviour persists, then it’s probably time your child see a counsellor or psychologist.  

How to help prevent your child from becoming a bully

Of course, modelling good behaviour at home is one of the best ways to stop your child from becoming a bully (although it’s no guarantee). Another action with a big impact is simply to provide your child with lots of positive attention as this helps them with their self-esteem. Praise them for their good behaviour, especially around treating others with kindness and respect. And finally, of course, let them know they can always come to you with their problems or worries.

The puberty talk you might have missed (but need to have)

There are a lot of changes that come with puberty: growth spurts, body hair, periods, wet dreams, mood swings and many more. Most of us will have a pretty good checklist of developments that kids need to know about. But there’s more that young people need to know – and can worry about – beyond the simple physical and psychological changes. Parents might not bring up or even know about the more complex or intangible aspects of adolescence. Like what, you ask? Read on and find out. 

They don’t need to worry

It’s easy to forget how scary the changes of puberty can feel to a kid on the brink of adolescence. After all, we’ve all lived with breasts or facial hair (or both) and the whole adult-body mixed bag for decades. But it’s both normal and very common for kids staring down these developments to feel anxious about them. As parents, we need to ease their fears and reassure them that there’s nothing to worry about, and that these changes don’t happen overnight.

Bodies changing can be exciting

Following on from the last point, you might like to encourage your child to approach their developing body with curiosity and wonder. Isn’t it exciting how your brain is developing? How cool is it that your body is growing so that one day you can make a baby if you want? Isn’t it amazing what the human body can do! Growing up comes with many wonderful things and experiences they’ll get to have, and it’s something to look forward to rather than fear.

Bodies grow and change at different speeds and in different ways

Puberty can come with a lot of comparing. Bodies growing too slowly or too much. It’s important that kids know that their bodies will grow and develop in their own time, not all at once and not at the same time or in the same ways as other people. There’s nothing to be gained from comparing their body to anyone else’s, and there will be aspects of their body that others wished they had. On this note, it’s also important to remind young people not to comment or tease someone for being either ahead or behind in development.

There’s nothing wrong with new curiosities and desires

Along with mood swings and heightened emotions come other psychological changes, including new curiosities and desires. It’s important kids know that these feelings are completely normal and natural – and are nothing to be ashamed of. Some kids also won’t develop sexual feelings for a while, and some never, and that’s okay as well. Either way, it’s just good to check in with young people and let them know they might experience these new feelings, and that it’s normal. Remember, books are always good help if you’re feeling particularly uncomfortable about talking.   

Gender identity can grow and change with puberty

For all young people, puberty is a time when gender identities can really cement themselves. It’s when gender dynamics suddenly become important and people might start thinking about who they’re attracted to. But they also might be thinking about how they identify. While for most kids, puberty will just confirm that their gender identity is the same as the sex they were assigned at birth, but others might realise that their gender is different to the label they were given when they were born.

Friendships might grow and change

Adolescence is a time of great change – and that can include social circles. Through growing up, changing from primary school to secondary school and developing new interests, new friendships often develop as others fade. And that’s fine and normal. The length of a friendship is only one measure of success; it’s okay for kids to decide they want to spend time with different people. So long as a friendship makes you feel good most of the time, it’s okay whether it lasts a lifetime or just a summer.  

Their want for independence is normal

The push for independence that often comes with puberty isn’t something that’s just tough for the parents, it can be painful and confusing for young people too. Outwardly, they might be telling you to get out of their face, but inwardly, there’s still the same need for parental approval and affection. That pull between their opposing desires can be difficult to understand or manage, and it can help if teens know what they’re experiencing is normal and okay.

You’ll stick by them ­­– even when they don’t want you to

Following on from the last point, there’s an extra message to tack on when talking to them about their desire for freedom. Let your child know you’ll give them space when they want, but also be there for them when they need. Even if it seems like they’re not listening – they are. They’re still taking on your messages and they want to hear from parents. This reassurance will help go forth into the world without guilt, and with the knowledge that they can always turn to you and once again become a ‘child’ who will be cared for when they need.

And don’t forget to listen

Finally, the last and one of the most helpful things parents can do during this period is to take a step back and just listen. As kids get older, our role becomes less about talking and more about listening. Having a sympathetic ear may be all the support they need at times. And at the end of the day, it’s up to them to work out who they are and what they believe in as they become adults.

How to keep your child safe on the internet (including games and social media)

Talk about it (and often)

The first and best thing you can do with your child is to talk to them! Ask them about why they want to be online and how they connect with others. Tell them about your fears and what you need to feel more comfortable about their safety. Talk about what they can do if something ever happens or if they see anything inappropriate online and practise the steps together. Keeping channels of communication open will make them more likely to come to you if they ever see something upsetting.

Screens where you can see them

Rather than giving a child an iPad to go take off with them wherever, consider having a shared central computer (like in the living room). This way you can keep an eye on what they’re up to – and they’ll be less likely to search for anything they know they shouldn’t. Make this the only place where they can go on the internet.

Set clear rules (together)

What are some rules that will make you feel more comfortable with them using the internet? Consider what your boundaries are and ask them about what they think some fair rules might be as well. Will there be limits to screen time? Will there be some apps or games that are a hard no? Do they need to show you who their ‘friends’ are on social media apps? Deciding on some clear boundaries together will help keep them safe (and in check).

Make them aware of their ‘digital footprint’

Just because in some apps a photo or post can disappear after 30 seconds or 24 hours, doesn’t mean that it’s not been captured. Kids need to get their head around the idea that once something is up on the internet, it’s permanent. There can always been screen-captures or anything else. Because of this, they always need to think carefully before putting anything online. This isn’t just for images or photos of themselves, but also the language they use; others will see inappropriate or abusive language. Better to err on the side of caution than to regret something later.

No personal information

Because of the above point, it’s so important that kids know that no personal information should ever be shared online – especially in public places like social media posts. This is a good hard and fast rule to have, and can include things like phone number, address, and whatever else you decide.

Know your parental controls

Some games, apps, wifis and devices will have certain controls that will block access to certain things that aren’t appropriate for children. We recommend spending some time and doing a bit of research to see what is within your control (you can start by reading this page from the eSafety Commissioner). Of course, these won’t work as a magic blocker against all harmful things on the internet – but it can help.

No sexual conversations – and tell an adult

This is another one we recommend being a hard rule that should be talked about a lot. It’s also why body safety and knowing about private body parts is so important! Children need to know that if they see – or if anyone talks to them about – anything to do with private parts, they should look away and come tell an adult straight away. If any stranger is asking to see any photos at all, that can be a warning sign. Some kids might worry they’ll be laughed at or get into trouble if this happens to them, so it’s so vital we tell our children that it’s always okay to come to a trusted adult and that they’ll never be punished.

Know who they’re talking to (and no strangers)  

Get them to show you who they’re talking to and who they’re adding on their games and social media apps. It’s not an invasion of privacy to at least ask to be shown who they’re talking to, and before adolescence we would argue it’s okay to ask to see at least some of their conversations – especially if it’s someone that you don’t know of in their real life.  On this point, all of their socials’ pages and games (where possible) should be set to ‘private’.

Add them on your own socials

If you have some of the same social media or even games apps as they do – add them! Kids will be more likely to be aware of what they’re posting if they know mum or dad can see it too.

Keep on top of apps 

SnapChat? TikTok? Roblox? Minecraft? It can feel like technology is constantly evolving and there are always new apps out there. But it helps if you can keep on top of at least the most popular sites and apps that kids are visiting. This can be as simple as looking up something your child mentions, or every now and again just doing a search or two online to see what’s popular right now. Have a read about these apps. Do they have any child safety features? What are the worrying parts of them? Knowing what your kids are using will help you be prepared.

Watch out for cyberbullying

Of course, with interactions with other people online comes the worries and risks of cyberbullying. We can’t hide our children away from the world, nor the internet, so the best we can do is be prepared and set up channels of communication so that they feel they can come to you if something is wrong. Have a chat with your child about what cyberbullying looks like and why it isn’t okay, and keep an eye out for the signs that they may be being bullied (like withdrawing from social activities, even online).

Resources for parents

https://www.commonsensemedia.org

https://mediasmarts.ca/parents

https://www.esafety.gov.au/parents

https://www.esafety.gov.au/kids

How to support your LGBTQ+ child or teen

Every child deserves love and care. Sometimes, it can feel like a huge task as a parent to know how to support and nurture your young person in all the ways they need. Young LGBTQ+ people particularly face unique challenges that some parents might not always know how to guide through – especially with today’s terminology changing so fast (you can read our article which breaks down the LGBTQ+ acronym here). But there are a number of simple and easy steps we can take to become both allies and centres of support for our children and teens who are gay, transgender, or anything else.

Show them love and support

It seems like a no-brainer, but it really is the most important point. Studies from The Trevor Project found LGBTQ+ youth who had at least one accepting adult in their life were 40 per cent less likely to report a suicide attempt. Tell your child you love them, no matter who they are – and not in spite of who they are. Tell them you’ll support their journey and always be there to look out for them. If they’ve come out to you as transgender or gender non-conforming, make an effort to always use their chosen name or pronouns and correct yourself if you mess up (this includes even when they’re not around).

Watch for negative thoughts

You might have moments when you think to yourself, ‘It’s just a phase,’ or, ‘Others will judge me,’ or, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ And that’s okay. We’re all only human. But it’s important in those moments to course-correct your thoughts, and not let them slip out in front of your child. Remind yourself that these thoughts aren’t right or fair for your child: it’s not just a phase, no one will judge you, and you did nothing wrong – just as there’s nothing wrong with your child!

Ask questions and listen, listen, listen

Give your child the time and space to open up to you. Check in often. Ask them questions – about their identity or orientation and what it means to them; the terms can be defined differently for different individuals, and some of the nuances might seem small but they can be a big deal for people who identify a certain way. Ask about their views on the world and their thoughts on the LGBTQ+ experience today. Ask them about their favourite queer idols or stars and what they like about them. Talk to them about current issues for the community. And listen and take on board what they have to say.

Be proactive

Little things can go a long way in showing that you’re a parent who actively participates in your child’s life. Do a bit of research to find out what all the latest LGBTQ+ terms are and what they mean (we have a helpful post on this here). Read the news on sexuality and gender diversity issues. Look into queer events that you can go to together to show that you care. They’ll pick up on your demonstration of support.

Show them representation

Thankfully, LGBTQ+ representation has come a long way – especially in the last few years. There are more movies, television shows, books and podcasts than ever that focus on queer characters and issues. Queer musicians are more common than ever. Watching, reading or listening to these with your child will help to show them that they’re normal and there are many others like them. It also helps to show the breadth of LGBTQ+ experience – that queer people aren’t a monolith and there’s a lot of diversity even just within labels like ‘gay’ or ‘trans’.

Watch out for bullying

According to the Human Right’s Commission, more than 70 per cent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have been attacked, bullied or harassed. School yards can be particularly vicious places for young queer people. Watch out for signs that your child is being bullied, including withdrawing from social activities and other activities they normally enjoy, not wanting to go to school, and behaving more withdrawn, mopey or irritable than normal. They also might make more negative comments about themselves.

If you suspect your child is being bullied, check in with them. It’s okay to ask what’s going on in their lives and in the schoolground. From there, talk to your child’s school. They should have anti-bullying policies in place and steps they can take – and hopefully, they will have specific support services for LGBTQ+ kids.

Keep an eye out for signs of poor mental health

A disproportionate number of LGBTQ+ people experience issues with mental health compared to heterosexual and/or cisgender general populations – including much higher suicide rates. Your child or teen might also be showing the signs listed in the above point if they’re suffering from common mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression. If your child has become withdrawn, speak to your GP and do some research to find a queer-friendly psychologist or counsellor for them. If seeing a counsellor doesn’t work, you might need to talk to your GP about other options such as medication.

Connect them with resources and events

Both you and your child need to remember that you’re not alone in this! Far from it, for many people, one of the best things about being a queer person is the community it opens you up to. Minus18 is a fantastic resource that young people can get involved with. Not only do they provide education and advocacy, but they also run events for queer children and teens to help them make friends with one another. You can also show your support by going to events together, such as Midsumma Festival and their Pride March, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival and all-ages drag shows.

Support their self-expression

All adolescents care about how the look – fitting in with their ‘tribe’. This is no exception – even particularly true – for queer tweens and teens. Allowing them to dress in a way that expresses their gender or sexuality can affirm and foster pride in their identity, while helping them feel supported by you. Of course, sadly, there may need to be conversations about staying safe (as visibly queer people can be particular targets for attacks), but you can negotiate situations and places where they can go ‘all out’, so to speak.

Reach out to other families and support services

Once more – you’re not alone! Not sure what to do or say? Reach out to other parents. Ask your child’s school what they’re doing to support their queer students and their parents. See if you can set up a parents’ group. Meet other parents at events such as Pride marches. Look out for Facebook groups. One particularly great resource is The Rainbow Network, which is a website specifically for families of LGBTQ+ children. They also run events, which can be an excellent for meeting similar parents and carers.

If they’re not out to you

First and foremost, try to hold back on assumptions. Until they tell you, you can’t know. Some people just behave and present themselves in ways that don’t uphold the stereotypes of their gender. You might be tempted to come out and ask, but it’s better to wait until they feel the time is right to tell you.

In the meantime, there are ways you can help foster an environment where they’ll feel safe to come out to you if the time does come. Speak positively about representations of LGBTQ+ people on screen. Make it no big deal to watch a film with a trans character or a gay love story. Challenge people around you if they speak negatively about queer people or issues in your presence – especially if your child is around. And finally, let your child know that you’ll love and support them no matter (and not in spite of) who they are or who they love.