What to Do When You Find Out Your Teen is Sexually Active

Posted February 25, 2013 by

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It’s the moment I believe every parent dreads: finding out your child may be sexually active. I think on some level we all realize this day is going to happen eventually. Most of us hope it’s not going to be until they are grown and out of the house, but that’s not always the case.  So, as a parent, what can you do?

First, try to take a bit of time to get some emotional distance from the situation. As much as you may want to respond in the moment when you find out, sometimes that’s not the best approach. There are probably going to be lot of thoughts and feelings going on for you at this point. Taking some time before addressing the subject can help ensure you do it in as calm and rational a manner as possible. Even though this can be a very emotional issue, it’s going to be more effective to leave the emotions out of the conversation if possible. You may also want to think about what your expectations are in regards to this. You may believe your family’s values are clear; however, that may not be necessarily so.  Situations such as these can have the effect of shaking your very foundation.  It will be much easier to be clear with your child if you’re clear with yourself first.

The next step is sitting down with your child and discussing what your beliefs, values and expectations are in regards to behavior. This is going to look a little different than the typical problem-solving conversations you will read about on Empowering Parents because this isn’t necessarily a “problem” in the classic sense. The focus during this conversation is more about discussing with your child your family’s values and how they relate to the choices he or she is making. For example, you could say to your child something like, “In our family, our belief is that this type of intimacy isn’t something to be taken lightly. There are some serious natural consequences that can occur from these choices. We care about you and want to be sure you are able to make good decisions.” At this point, the direction the conversation takes is going to depend upon your family’s mores and values, because this is where you discuss your limits and expectations. There are families who feel very strongly that premarital sex is not okay.  For other families, it’s more about being sure the possible consequences are clear and decisions around intimacy are well thought out.

As the parent, this is your call.  In reality, only you, as the parent, can decide what principles guide your parenting and your family. So, you might tell your teen you don’t want him or her having sex until marriage and set the limit around how much supervision is necessary when spending time with the opposite sex.  Or you might discuss some of the consequences that can happen, such as pregnancy or STDs, and what your teen can do to guard against those outcomes. It’s important to remember that, in all honesty, you’re probably not going to be able to control the choices your child makes in regards to sexual activity or any other activity, for that matter. Instead, focus on what you can control, namely your response, reactions, limits and boundaries, and what skills you can help your teen develop to be prepared for the choices that he or she will make in real life.


Denise Rowden is a parent of two teens: an 18-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son. She has worked in Special Education, Alternative Education and adolescent group homes. She has a BS in Psychology from the University of Southern Maine and is currently working on her Life Coach certification from the International Coach Federation.

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  1. rwolfenden Report

    Concerned father147 
    Many parents experience a strong emotional response when
    they discover that their child is sexually active, and you are not alone in
    feeling upset and angry.  Because age of consent laws vary so much among
    communities, it is difficult to determine what your options are at this
    point.  You might consider contacting your local law enforcement agency on
    their non-emergency line to get more information on this aspect.  I also
    encourage you to reach out for support for yourself right now to help you
    effectively respond to the choices your daughter is making. For assistance
    locating resources in your area, try contacting the http://www.211.org/ at 1-800-273-6222.  I
    recognize what a difficult situation this must be for you, and I wish you and
    your family all the best.  Take care.

  2. dianeparkerwild Report

    My 15 yr old daughter has just told me she has had unprotected sex with someone who wasn’t her boyfriend. She has taken the morning after pill.

    I am devastated. I feel that I don’t know my daughter – she has so little self respect to have “sold out so cheaply” and not surprisingly, she is now being targeted via social media. I have made her disable all accounts. 
    The only advice I can give her is to hold her head high & admit she’s an idiot and hopefully the immediate storm will blow over.
    I want to protect her but at the same time register with her my absolute disapproval for what she has done – I have had discussions in the past about relationships -and have no idea how to respond.
    Not sure if I posted a similar post a few hours ago as my brain is all over the place. Would appreciate your advice if anyone can advise.

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I can hear your distress. It can be so upsetting when you
      find out your child has made a choice that really goes against your family
      values. I can understand your disappointment with your daughter’s behavior.
      It’s going to be important to keep the focus on the choice she made and not
      look upon this choice as a moral issue or a character flaw. The unfortunate
      truth is, teens aren’t really equipped with the necessary skills to make good
      choices in every situation. Kids make mistakes. From what you have written, it
      sounds like your daughter is trying to be responsible about her choice by
      taking the morning after pill. I know that is probably a small consolation at
      this time. Your daughter is also having to face some pretty severe natural
      consequences through her peer group and on social media. I would continue to
      offer her support through this tough time and also talk with her about ways she
      could handle the situation differently the next time she finds herself in a
      compromising situation. I know this is a tough place to be as a parent. Be sure
      to check back and let us know how things are going. Take care.

  3. dianeparkerwild Report

    My 15 year old daughter has just told me that she had unprotected sex 2 days ago – with a boy who is not even her boyfriend.
    I feel so angry with myself as she seems to have such little self respect that she is “selling out so cheaply”. I tried so hard to stay calm, but couldn’t help letting my feelings known about my sadness for her that sex should be in a respectful relationship and  that she has “made her bed…”  
    As she is now being targeted on social media –  I’ve managed to get her to delete all accounts but the only advice I can give her is that she has to hold her head up high and admit she is an idiot. I want to wrap her up in cotton wool and protect her but I have no idea what to say/do and I feel that I have let her down.
    Luckily, she has taken the morning after pill. Any advice would be really appreciated  x

  4. Jen RJ Report

    Claire, thank you. I extracted more from your post than the article. Trying to sort out how I feel about this is the hardest part. And now establishing new rules and boundaries is where I’m stuck.



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