There is nothing sweeter than a two-hour long ‘siesta’ with my husband on a Sunday afternoon, while the baby sleeps. My new husband and I had not been together long, when I woke up after such a rest and headed for the sitting room where the four teenagers were gathered. Half-asleep, I wasn’t ready for the attack. ‘Oh, darling, you smell so good,’ said Jason, in a low voice. ‘Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,’ sang Hugo and Andrew in unison, animating the words with panting and hip-thrusting. ‘Ah, ah, ah,’ moaned Pauline, sounding surprisingly like me.
All I wanted to do was run, hide my head under the pillow, and never come out of the room again. Even if we did make some noise, our bedroom is quite tucked away and the only way the children could have heard us was by listening at the door. Our kids were deliberatly eavesdropping on the most intimate acts of my recent union with my new husband. And there was no pretending it hadn’t happened.
I took a deep breath. ‘Wait until you start bringing your own girlfriends or boyfriends back home. How about I listen at the door then act out the whole episode in front of all your siblings and boyfriend and girlfriend? Would you find it fun?’ The giggling subsided, andI retreated to my bedroom without making a big deal of what could have been a huge one. Funnily enough, ever since, the matter of parents’ sexuality visibly lost its appeal, gradually replaced by the matters of our teenagers’ own. Somehow what happened normalised our right to a sex life of our own.
By normalising our sexuality, we do the same to theirs, opening the lines of communication. My 17-year-old son startled me recently by asking questions like, is it better to use a diaphragm or a condom? How do you get hold of contraceptive pills and at what age do girls actually feel ‘ready’? Worryingly, he was convinced that withdrawal and condoms shared the same percentage of efficacy, nowhere lower than 99 per cent in both cases, he insisted. Withdrawal, by a 17-year-old boy? Give me strength! Was I about to become a grandma at 38? It seems the rather graphic information on threesomes, deep throat and ladyboys online had somehow overshadowed all the useful information. Perhaps a good, old-fashioned mother-and-son chat will beat a Google search on this subject.
The truth is this: whether adults approve or not, many teens have sex. I veer in the direction of acceptance and approval, with the focus on information (and dangers), discussions and sometimes making gentle fun of this rather essential area of life.
According to research, there is a recipe for good parenting – love and openness combined with boundaries, known as ‘authoritative’. Contrasted to the authoritarian (‘you do as I tell you’), permissive (‘do what you want’) and uninvolved (‘I don’t know what you’re doing’) parenting styles, children of authoritative parents tend to be happier, emotionally and socially capable, more confident and a lot more motivated. So if you want your teen to stay on top of their studies even amidst burgeoning hormones, then warmth, firmness and openness are key.
Read Lessons for my teenage son by Sam Cleasby on LifeLabs
Dr Ilona Boniwell is our family expert and one of the most respected positive psychologists in the world. She lives with her husband, their toddler and four teenagers. Got a QUESTION for Ilona? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, with ‘ILONA’ in the subject line