Dear Dr. Wes & Kelly: My 15-year-old daughter has had problems with regular periods for some time. It’s not bad, but just inconvenient. For several months, she’s been bugging me to put her on birth control pills because “all her friends are on them for their periods.” I think she is deceiving me about this and that she is really wanting to be sexually active. I don’t want to condone that by putting her on birth control. Do you think it’s worth the risk?
Wes: Actually, I think you’re misunderstanding the risk here. It’s not that your daughter may want to have sex. The risk is that she is having sex and you may soon be a grandparent if you don’t pay heed to her request. As I said some time back in this column, we need to end the debate about whether teenagers should be sexually active. They shouldn’t. But they are and have been for a lot longer than any of us have been alive. This leaves us to deal with the consequences of that situation. You are certainly free to try and interdict her sexual behavior, but the level of control and manipulation that requires is likely to create blowback in your family for years to come.
It’s unfortunate that you and your daughter have such limited communication about these matters that you feel she might be deceiving you in order to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy. Now would be a great time to get that communication opened up and help guide her in a safer and healthier direction. First of all, let’s take a step back and try thinking differently about this for a moment. It’s entirely possible that your daughter just wants to regulate her periods. However, I’ll admit I’ve heard that one in the privacy of my office many times, and often that stated reason is not the underlying reason.
So what does that mean for you? In a worst-case scenario, your daughter is trying to meet a critical need to prevent unwanted pregnancy while attempting to make you feel comfortable and secure in your perception of her. You can take that as deceptive, or you can take it as a mature attempt to protect you from disappointment and her from shame. It is certainly an imperfect solution, but that shortcoming is inherent to the problem of communication.
If you approach it from this angle, you then become free to really guide your daughter. For example, you can say to her, “I really appreciate that you’re taking the initiative here on your sexual health. However, if you’re going to be on birth control for any reason, I also want you to be fully aware of other issues like STDs, the emotional stakes involved in deciding to have sex, etc.”
In response, she groans, rolls her eyes and says, “God mom, it’s just for my periods!” And you calmly say, “I know that, but once you are on birth control you become freer to consider sex someday, and I won’t probably won’t get another chance to have this conversation with you. So the price of being on birth control is getting the full learning experience about your sexual health.” She may be upset with you about this, but in the end, she’ll think you are a really wise mom, and she’ll appreciate how seriously you take her.
Kelly: The risk. Whether you come to terms with your child being sexually active or not, the inevitable will happen. Of course, no parent wants to grapple with their 15-year-old child having sex, let alone unprotected sex. But the choices we make now will ultimately shape our choices for the future.
You knew this day would come sooner or later, but you were probably hoping for later. As Wes notes, the trend among her friends and a great majority of teens is to become sexually active at younger ages. None of this will change if you do or don’t put her on birth control. But as a mother, it’s part of your responsibility to prepare your child for sex-related issues, including the good, the bad and the ugly.
Your daughter probably already finds it embarrassing enough to talk to you about birth control. But through all the embarrassment, in the end it’s necessary. You say your daughter’s reasons to be put on birth control maybe deceiving. This shows that the problem is slightly deeper, involving trust issues between both of you. This is the perfect time for you to open the discussion. Explain to her why you feel it is unnecessary for her to be on birth control but be sure to hear and understand where she is coming from. The teenage years are awkward enough, and it’s important to know when to play the parent or friend role.
Once the line of communication is opened, you will notice some of the tension disappear. If you do choose to provide her with birth control, tell her that you do not condone her having sex, but if any questions arise, you will be there for her. No parent wants his or her children to become sexually active at such a young age. Yet with or without your permission, it will happen. The important thing is to educate your children on the matter and continue to be there for them through it all.
— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is a board-certified family psychologist and director of the Family Therapy Institute Midwest. Kelly Kelin is a senior at Free State High School. Opinions and advice given here are not meant as a substitute for psychological evaluation or therapy services. Send your questions about adolescent issues (limited to 200 words) to firstname.lastname@example.org. All correspondence is strictly confidential.