How Do I Talk About Dating And Sex With My Teen?
by: Mike Domitrz
Tips for Parents on Teaching Respect & Healthy
Below are the seven most common questions parents ask me
when I am speaking in their schools or with their community
Without sounding like you are lecturing and without
endorsing sexual activity, how do you approach the issue of
healthy dating and intimacy with your child?
Kids are constantly told by their parents how “times were
different” and “we were more respectful.” The truth is that our
culture has had a very unhealthy and confusing approach to
dating, intimacy, and sexuality for a very long time -- today
is no different. Once parents admit the feelings of confusion
they had as a young person and discuss their 'scary' or
'troubling' moments, the teenagers are more likely to connect
with their parents. Sharing difficult and scary moments also
helps your kids see the dangers and consequences of making bad
decisions ~ in a realistic and thought-provoking manner.
Instead of telling your child, "How times were different
when you were young," find a commonality between the two of
you. When you tell someone how different it was back when you
were young, why should your child think you can understand what
they are going through? Connect with your son or daughter by
opening the conversation with a question that shows you do
understand their worries, concerns, and thoughts.
For example, a parent saying, "I remember getting all
nervous before a date because I was wondering lots of stuff
like, 'Will my date like me?', 'Will my date find me
attractive,' 'I wonder what my date is really like.' Do you
ever get nervous like that?" This type of question can make a
parent more approachable to their child. No matter what your
age is or of the “times” you grew up in, these difficult
feelings cross all generations. The key to success is asking in
a sincere and caring tone.
What are the correct dating behaviors and practices to
Self-respect, respect for your partner and high standards
need to be taught to males and females at all times. When a
person believes in his or her self, the person is more likely
to make the "right" decisions in difficult moments. Students
with low self-esteem are more likely to lower their standards
to please their partner -- a very dangerous and unhealthy
We need to teach young people to "expect to be respected"
and to not tolerate any forms of disrespect (a date should ask
before trying to do "something with you"). We need to teach how
speaking out for yourself is both strong and sexy (many fear
speaking out will be unattractive to their dates). We need to
teach them to better understand what "respecting" a date means.
Respect is not simply opening doors, paying for meals, or other
signs of chivalry. Respect is holding your date in the highest
esteem and always getting your date's permission before trying
to do "something."
One of the most common mistakes parents make is assuming
that the males are always the sexual aggressors. More and more,
we are hearing about females becoming the more sexually
assertive person in the relationship. Try to avoid all
assumptions of gender roles.
At what age do my kids begin learning about intimacy?
By observing their parents, children learn intimacy at an
extremely young age. If a young man sees his father ask his
mother for a kiss, he is more likely to believe that asking is
how he should act. If a young woman hears her mother talk about
how respectful and loving her father is, the young woman is
more likely to want a more respectful and loving partner.
Parents should begin discussing appropriate touching at
early ages and then advance into issues of intimacy as those
years approach. Due to the images and discussions television
and the entertainment industry promote to younger audiences,
parents need to have these conversations at much younger ages
(for many, prior to the age of 10 is appropriate -- kids are
seeing or hearing about much more explicit behavior by this
age). Even if you do not let your children watch such programs,
they are likely to hear about these shows from their peers.
There is no one magical age for these conversations to take
place. Each set of parents must decide what is right for his or
her child. However, the day your child is born is the day your
child begins watching you. Make a conscious effort to display
respect in all aspects of intimacy and sexuality by asking
before kissing people. When your kids watch you, what will they
What do I teach my kids about the "Age Laws"?
Parents must teach their child about age laws. Each state
has very specific laws regarding minors involved with sexual
activity. Two 15-year-olds could each say, “yes” to engage in
certain sexual activity with one another and they would still
be breaking the law in many states. In addition, parents need
to help young people understand that these laws exist to help
Learn the laws in your state so that you can address the
legal aspect – just don’t make the legal element your focus.
Kids typically find such conversations to be boring and most
kids don’t fear the authorities catching them engaged in sexual
How can parents help their kids avoid peer pressure?
Immediately begin treating your child with respect and with
great value. By teaching a child how "special" he or she is you
can help him or her understand why getting involved with
intimacy should be saved for an extremely "special" moment.
Research proves that the earlier a child gets involved in
intimacy is directly related how much "value" the child places
in his or her own self. For this reason, we need to connect
with our children in an engaging and "open" approach.
Children fear being lectured and being judged. Children love
to be "heard." Ask questions, listen with an open mind, and
then have positive discussions. When your child feels a special
connection with you and understands why you have such strong
beliefs, he or she is more likely to believe YOU over his or
her friends. Plus, when a child understands the "why" to not
getting involved with certain behavior, he or she will have a
real reason for saying "no" to peer pressure (instead of simply
saying "because my parents said so"). The child will WANT to
say "no" because he or she will believe that "no" is the right
My son is very respectful -- why would I need to worry about
him being involved in a sexual assault?
Most "respectful" males still learn about aspects of
intimacy through their friends and what they see portrayed on
television and in the movies. These sources of education
promote disrespectful behavior by teaching males that if they
are "smooth," they can just make their moves and their partner
will want them.
When males just "make their moves," they take a tremendous
risk of engaging in behavior that their partners do not want –
thus leading to committing a sexual assault. Parents need to
talk with their sons about truly respecting a partner by
understanding how valuable and special each person is as a
human being (including the body, the mind, sexuality,
personality, and values). Sons need to learn that the only way
you can be sure what your date wants is to "ask" your date
Plus, many males are survivors of sexual assault. You never
want to assume only a female can be sexually assaulted. Talk to
your son about “If anyone ever has or ever does touch you
against your will or without your consent, I will always be
here for you.” Sons need to know they can be sexually assaulted
and that you will be there for them as a strong source of
My daughter is tough and outspoken -- I don't have anything
to worry about,right?
WRONG! Many tough and outspoken females have been sexually
assaulted or have become unexpectedly pregnant. A "tough" and
"outspoken" female might think she is invincible and that
belief can be extremely dangerous (she may believe "she would
never get pregnant" or that "no man could ever sexually assault
me"). By being over-confident, she may be less likely to see
potential signs of trouble. Another female may be very
confident in most aspects of her life, but not with intimacy or
Parents need to teach their daughters "awareness" to better
equip their daughters for noticing signs of trouble. At the
same time, we must understand that there is no 100% form of
sexual assault prevention that a victim or survivor can utilize
(100% prevention can only result by the assailant not
attempting the behavior). A young woman or man could follow
every healthy dating advice ever given and still be sexually
assaulted. Stress to your daughter that she cannot ever be at
fault for someone sexually assaulting her – this point must be
stressed. Many, many females never tell their parents about
their assault because the daughter fears how their parents will
react. Help your daughter know that you will be there to
support her and love her at all times! Tell her, “If anyone
ever has or ever does touch you against your will or without
your consent, I will always be here for you.”
At the same time, talk to your daughter about respecting her
partner’s boundaries and standards. As mentioned previously,
females are the aggressors in some relationships. A sexually
assertive female needs to understand the importance of seeking
her partner’s consent.
Do I really need to have these conversations?
Not talking about complex issues simply leads to confusion.
When kids talk to their friends, every component is often
exaggerated and glamorized (every romantic encounter is amazing
and romantic in their “dream world”). Thus, building the young
person’s drive to experiment with sex, drugs, and other
dangerous behaviors. Help the child learn the truth by speaking
honestly about your memories in a manner that they can relate
to. If you can be a little humorous, you can help break the
barriers down for your teenager to start talking openly to
About The Author
Mike Domitrz is an expert in dating and
communicating on sex and other intimate issues.
He is founder of The Date Safe Project
nationally-recognized speaker, and author of
May I Kiss You? A Candid Look at Dating,
Communication, Respect & Sexual Assault
Contact him at Mike@thedatesafeproject.org.