The entire family is at the dinner table enjoying a meal. Your foster teen has her cell phone but leaves it by mistake when she goes to the bathroom. The phone isn’t on silent and text messages continue to come. You don’t want to violate her privacy, but you feel the need to silence it. As you do that, you see a sexually inappropriate text. She’s sexting – a practice of sending and receiving sexually explicit photos or messages via cell phone. You’re shocked, angry and afraid. When she comes back, you want to address the text immediately. It’s time to start talking to your foster teen about sex. Are you prepared?
Many teens, in foster care or not, have sex. Foster teens, however, are more likely to be sexually active. Factors like low self esteem from abuse and neglect and the possibility of sexual abuse play important roles in sexual promiscuity. Understanding these factors can help you address this issue effectively.Q: How do I start talking about sex with my foster teen?
There’s nothing more devastating to a teen than to be humiliated by her peers. When she shares inappropriate and personal content, she is releasing something that can never be taken back. Your challenge is to get her to see that when she exposes herself, she is in danger of getting hurt later in life. She can encounter problems in future relationships, and employment opportunities can be threatened. If she eventually has children, they may be exposed to her past as well.
When you talk to your foster teen, be truthful. Tell her it’s normal for her to feel the way she does. At this point in her life, she is still learning how her body works. She is trying to identify who she is and where she fits in. This is a chance for you to talk with her about your morals. You can’t force your beliefs on her, but you can express values you believe are important and will benefit her.
Asking her what she thinks sex is will give her a chance to share her perspective. Your foster teen has been exposed to sex through a variety of avenues like television, social media, peers and, possibly, her biological family. She could have learned she has to have sex to keep a relationship. On the other hand, she may have experienced her parents having a happy and loving connection. Whatever the case is, learning her perspective will help you begin the conversation.
For example, she may feel like she can’t get pregnant if she has her period or if she takes a bath immediately after sex. The other end of the spectrum may be that she actually wants to get pregnant. She may think the only way to be loved unconditionally is to have a child of her own. Your foster teen may also think that, if she has a child, she’ll right the wrongs that have been done to her.
She may also believe she’s invincible and won’t contract an STD. The reality is that occurrences of STDs are, unfortunately, extremely high in young people. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, youth ages 15-24 account for almost 10 million STD cases every year. Many teens have a misconception of how STDs are transmitted. Diseases can be transferred in many ways, including oral sex. Inform your teen that, if and when she decides to have sex, protection for every sexual act is strongly advised. Protection not only reduces the risks of STDs, but it also decreases the chance of pregnancy. Another form of protection is knowledge, so making sure she understands these facts will prepare her to make healthy choices.
Of course, the best protection is to not have sex at all. If this is a value you want to instill in your foster daughter, tell her. However, what she decides is ultimately up to her.
Make sure she understands that each time she has sex, it is a major decision, and it is always her choice. Before she has intercourse, she should think it through, because there can be physical and emotional consequences. Since your teen did not have a choice about being placed in foster care, knowing she has the right to make her own decisions will help her feel empowered and give her the control that she wants over her life.
Is it possible she’ll continue sexting? Yes. But instead of panicking, you were honest, asked the right questions and shared your own experiences. Because you didn’t shy away from discussing this important part of life, you have left a door open for her to talk to you going forward.
If you still want more tips on having this discussion, embrella has a course called The Birds and Bees and Everything in Between available to licensed resource parents in New Jersey.
Salendria Mabrey is a Communication and Development Associate at Foster and Adoptive Family Services.