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Sexual coercion in teenagers: what can parents do?

Maya Griffiths

Maya Griffiths

When a child is in a teenage relationship it can be a worrying time for the parents. During the teenage years young people become aware of their sexuality and interested in sexual activity. Peer pressure can also play a part in teens feeling like they ‘should’ be sexual before they’re ready, or before it’s legal. Sometimes, that pressure can come from their boyfriend or girlfriend.

What is the definition of sexual coercion?

Sexual coercion means pushing for someone to engage in sexual activity, or making them feel like they have to do something they don’t want to. Any unwanted sexual activity is defined as coercion.

How can parents safeguard their kids from unwanted sexual behaviour?

Even though a teenager’s relationship is separate from their parents, mums and dads can help in a number of ways. We asked Spurgeons’ Parenting Lead Nicola Baldwin for advice for parents:

Be aware that young people are at risk of coercion

With this in mind, talk about healthy boundaries openly. ‘Nobody has the right to force them into anything they’re uncomfortable with,’ says Nicola. ‘Talk about healthy relationships as well and what they look like- loving and respectful. The problem is that they don’t always know what a healthy relationship is. So, when you explain it to them, be specific.’

Remind teens that it isn’t just strangers that rape people- it happens in relationships too. ‘Explain what a healthy touch is- something that’s welcome and nice,’ advises Nicola. ‘They have every right to say no, or that they’re uncomfortable with something.’

Dispel the myths

It’s important to remember that what teens may be seeing on tv, on social media or in pornography is not real or natural. Having a conversation around this can be useful.

There can be all sorts of wrong ideas between youths- like that you have to have sex with someone if you’re going out with them. It’s important to dispel those myths.

‘They should want to do something or try something,’ says Nicola. ‘And, If they do try something and don’t like it, they can say no at that point too.’

The consequences of sexual activity

It can be hard for teenagers who have a happy-go-lucky attitude to imagine that something negative might come from sexual activity, but it can. For example, texting intimate images to a boyfriend may seem harmless at the time, but should the relationship turn sour, all control of those images is lost.

‘Once something is on the internet it’s there forever,’ says Nicola. ‘They could threaten to show other people the pictures, which is horrible. Young people need to think long term and further down the line- there may be consequences later.’

In the same way that teens have to make choices in life for the best- not taking part in something risky with friends, for example- that same rational thinking needs to be applied to relationships.

The weight of responsibility

It’s important for teens to consider that even if they feel ready for sex, they might not be ready to deal with the consequences of what can happen afterwards- pregnancy. It can happen sometimes even if condoms are used.

It’s an important fact to think about before taking part in sexual activity. Having sex comes with certain level of responsibility- both in considering and respecting your sexual partner and also being aware of the risks.

Is the relationship healthy?

Aim to educate your teens on what healthy friendships and relationships look like. This can help them create boundaries around other people’s behaviour and avoid being taken advantage of.

‘Do they feel safe- do they feel the other person is giving them respect?,’ says Nicola. ‘Do they feel they can say no? If they feel they have no option then things aren’t right.’

Being pestered for sex is a form of coercion, and a worrying sign. Keep the lines of discussion and communication open between you and your teen. ‘Tell them you’ll always believe them and you’ll always take any concerns they’ve got seriously,’ says Nicola.

Should you approach the conversation differently between girls and boys?

Only slightly, says Nicola: ‘Boys can get abused as well and get forced into things too. With boys I’d be speaking about respecting the girls and their wishes. Boys might not consider what they should do in a given situation if the other person said no. Encourage them to check with the other person how they feel about doing things.

‘For girls, make it clear that they should never feel forced into anything- and that if they’re threatened over it that it’s not ok. Girls often want to make the other person happy and therefore it’s vital that they’re ready to say no if necessary.’

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