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When Your Teen Asks for Birth Control

Birth control pills
Photograph by Getty Images/age fotostock RM

You may want to ignore the fact that your teen could be sexually active or could become so, soon, but keeping the lines of communication open and facing the problem head on is a better choice than denial. After all, you don't want to be raising a grandchild, too—do you? "Teen girls are at peak fertility," says Dr. Scott Carroll, a child psychiatrist in Albuquerque, N.M. "And emotions are far stronger than rational thought in a teen." Inevitably, your teen will be in situations where she could have sex, and it only takes one time to get pregnant. So here's what to do if your daughter asks for birth control or if you suspect she needs it.

Don't Freak Out

Whatever you do, don't freak out. Remember, it probably took a lot of guts for your daughter to bring up the subject. So put on your poker face and have a calm, nonjudgmental discussion about why she's interested in birth control, says Dr. Carroll. She may tell you she wants it for an acne remedy or a solution for menstrual cramps, which may be true, but she could also use these reasons if she plans to have sex. Either way, "just go along with the story because you can't actually stop them from having sex," says Dr. Carroll. And suggest an appointment with your pediatrician or a gynecologist.

RELATED: How to Talk to Your Tweens About Sex

Look at the situation as a blessing in disguise: Your teen actually wants to protect herself from getting pregnant and feels comfortable enough to talk to you about it. Since she's opening the gates of communication, this is also a good opportunity to discuss having safe sex and the importance of using condoms even when taking birth control pills. If you're uncomfortable having "the talk," taking your daughter to the pediatrician or a gynecologist can be helpful. Some doctors will spend time counseling your teen on safe sex issues and may even encourage her to talk openly with you about her relationships.

Get Past the Denial Stage

But you don't think your teen is having sex. "Pull your head out of the sand!" says Dr. Carroll. Even the "good girls" you least suspect of having sex could be doing so, and therefore at risk for getting pregnant. Don't get caught up in denial.

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Dr. Cheryl Perlis, a gynecologist in Lake Bluff, Ill. tells parents that if a girl has a boyfriend, you should assume she's having sex. While it isn't always true, Dr. Perlis believes it usually is, and therefore it's a good time to bring the teen to see a gynecologist. Your teen may also come up with other ways to get to the gynecologist like complaining about cramps, with the goal of getting birth control pills.

Even if your teen hasn't asked for birth control yet, you shouldn't ignore the issue. Some teens will never feel comfortable asking a parent for birth control, so no matter how badly you don't want to, you may have to be the one to bring up the option. Dr. Perlis suggests saying to teens, "If you're thinking about becoming sexually active, it's really important that you use birth control, and if you want to go to the gynecologist, that's fine." Remember, suggesting birth control or saying yes to birth control is not the same as encouraging sex.

Be Wary of Encouraging Abstinence

While praising the benefits of virginity and waiting until they're older may sound like a smart strategy, experts disagree. "Abstinence pledges and classes have been scientifically proven to increase the rate of unprotected sex," says Dr. Carroll. "So preaching to teens just backfires." It's best to give your teen the tools she needs to be prepared.

Decide how Young Is too Young for Birth Control

Ideally, a teen's menstrual cycle should be developed for two years after she starts getting her period before suppressing it with birth control pills. So if your daughter's period started at 11, you should wait until she's 13. However, Dr. Perlis says that if your daughter is sexually active, she should start taking birth control pills anyway.

Explore Options Beyond Just the Pill

Birth control pills are a popular choice for teens, but they should be taken at the same time every day for maximum effectiveness and some teens have trouble remembering to do so. For these reasons, some teens and parents of teens are opting for other birth control options. A copper IUD can be inserted by a doctor and lasts for 10 years. The Mirena IUD, which releases small amounts of hormones directly into the uterus, lasts for 5 years. Or there is the birth control implant, which is placed under the skin of the upper arm and lasts for three years. Encourage your daughter to discuss the options with her gynecologist.

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