Children want to learn what’s "right." Parents teach within their families the moral principles on which our multi-cultural society is based. In general, these are principles that protect the common good and help us live together.

But in today’s society, our children are exposed to so much information and so many experiences that we are justified in our concern for their development. Along with unprecedented threats and opportunities comes less time for experimentation to pass on important values. How can parents do it. . .and do it well?

The key is in teaching our children how to make choices that are right for them as individuals, with high regard for how the consequences affect others. Their skill is acquired mostly from our own approach to life—our examples, our justice, our respect for them and for others. Their success is also dependent on the sense of self-worth we give them, to serve as protection in a tough world.

Teenagers today know so much more about sex than any other generation. Now they are sexually active with more partners at a younger age. Yet many parents are still uncomfortable about talking to their children about sex.

Naturally, it’s more uncomfortable to deal with a teen pregnancy, or with a sexually transmitted disease. It’s very important for children to learn to rely on parents for sexual information. Parents begin by understanding their own ideas about sexuality, and decide what they want to teach their children.

Let’s talk about girls. What is the best way to start?

Start when she is young. Talk about body parts and call them by their correct names. Use the word "sex" over the years, in a matter-of-fact manner, so she gets used to talking about it.

What can parents say that will make a difference to teenage girls?

Teenagers want to make their own decisions, because it helps them feel mature. So education is important. Help her understand the possible consequences of early sex: pregnancy, HIV and other STDs. Ask her about other girls who are sexually active. Talk about reputation & her sense of self-worth. Help her understand there is a big difference between love and sex.

But what about when she is faced with a sexual situation and has to make a decision. How can you teach her to "just say ‘NO’?"

You can’t wait until then. You have to let her practice saying "no." Prepare her by giving her plenty of opportunities to make decisions as she grows. At puberty, help her create a vision of a good date. Talk about appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Talk about where she and her date would go, and what they would do. Give her a "picture" of what a good date is. Role play with her. Pretend to be a boy who is trying to get her to have sex. Suggest words she can use.

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