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15-year-old Granddaughter Wants to Have Sex

QUESTION: My granddaughter is 15 and a sophomore in high school. Her mother says she is not ready for sex, but she says she is! Her mother found out she has been sneaking off to see a boyfriend and has forbidden her from seeing him anymore. What can her mother or I do to convince my granddaughter that she is too young to have sex? My daughter is heartsick.

ANSWER: While forbidding a younger child from an activity because of age may be effective, it is rarely a successful course of action in preventing a teenager from having sex. Your granddaughter's psychological readiness to share her body with a sexual partner deserves special consideration, and having a talk with her about sex is definitely in order! But keep in mind that offering guidance in her decisionmaking, rather than dictating ultimatums, is a necessary adjustment that parents must make as their children enter their adolescent years.

Teens are not young children, nor are they adults. They are betwixt and between! Help your daughter navigate these waters by pointing out that she no longer has the same kind of control over her daughter that she did when your granddaughter was a young child. But this does not mean that she does not have a strong and powerful influence on the decisions she makes!

What a mother can do

First, consider sharing the following points with your daughter for her to draw on in a mother-daughter discussion about sex.

Having sex is an intimate experience with both emotional and physical dimensions. Do not be too intimidated to speak frankly and directly about sex with your teen. It is your teenager's job to challenge -- and yours to answer the call by letting her know your beliefs and philosophy. This is an opportunity to share with her your values as a woman, as well as a mother. If you truly believe that sex should be nurtured within a loving and committed relationship, tell your daughter why. If you believe that trust is an important prerequisite to sexual vulnerability with another, explain why you believe it will make a difference for her.

Let your daughter know that having sex is an important event, that you want her be ready for, emotionally as well as physically, to ensure a positive experience. Emotional health and self-esteem hinge upon meaningful relationships with others, whether they are sexualized or not. Sex can alter the definition of an existing relationship. It is a big step that requires responsibility for another person. If trust is important in friendship, why wouldn't it be crucial in a sexual relationship? Help your daughter to anticipate these changes and evaluate how she might feel about having sex with someone, after the fact. Help her to anticipate the emotional closeness she could feel, and the expectations and commitment she might expect from her boyfriend. Or the rejection she could experience if he pulls away for any reason.

At such a young age, she is ready to date, but is she really ready for a commitment of this kind? Let her know that you think it is wise to wait. And that there is no harm in taking her time to see what the relationship is about before sexualizing it. Ask her to slow things down, and to continue talking with you rather than feeling pressured to jump into sex at this time.

In addition to the issues of trust and vulnerability, be sure to address the equally important matters of health and pregnancy risks. Talk about safe sex and contraception, even if your daughter chooses to delay sex with her boyfriend at this time. Discuss the risks of pregnancy. And talk about sexually transmitted diseases -- not only the deadly HIV, which causes AIDS, but also less-publicized diseases such as HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer, and chlamydia, which can cause infertility. Point out that such diseases may cause no noticeable symptoms, and her partner may be infected without realizing it. Don't forget to discuss oral sex, too, as many teens are now turning to oral sex as an alternative that does not risk pregnancy. It is possible to contract many STDs orally, particularly herpes, which is incurable.

You may find it particularly awkward at first. But if you talk through your initial discomfort, you will likely find that your relationship with your daughter deepens as she sees you as a resource in her decisionmaking rather than an obstacle. After all, you are her mother and you do have her best interests at heart. She might even be secretly relieved for your guidance on the subject!

What a grandmother can do

Your job as a grandmother is to support the mother-daughter relationship. Support your daughter by suggesting she accept the changes adolescence brings to her relationship with her daughter. Help her to see that it is in her best interest, and her daughter's, to respect the fact that your granddaughter is reaching an age at which she will begin to make her own decisions. She is in transition between childhood and adulthood, a sort of "beginning adult"! And she needs guidance.

You can help by supporting your daughter in her struggles to change her approach. Make suggestions in a warm and loving manner. And point her toward establishing a safe space for having discussions, rather than dictating your daughter's behavior. Help her to adopt an attitude of guidance rather than control. Establishing a safe environment for these discussions will make it more likely that your granddaughter will turn to her mother in time of need, rather than turn away from her!

Your support as a grandmother can give your daughter the perspective she needs to make the changes adolescence requires. Do not underestimate your power to make a difference in the lives of two women you love and cherish!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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