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PARENT TO PARENT.

WITH the festive season approaching, national charity Parentline Plus has issued some tips for parents on how to handle the often nerve wracking issue of teenagers going off to parties.

While this may be an exciting time for teenagers, it can be a very different story for anxious parents who worry what their children might get up to at unsupervised parties. Parentline Plus, which runs a social networking website for parents of teens - www.gotateenager.org.uk - and a confidential, 24-hour Parentline, is keen to show how important it is for parents to talk to their teens about any risks they may face, from unprotected sex to getting into a car while the driver is under the influence.

By doing this, parents can help prevent their teens from getting into risky situations, encourage them to delay their first sexual activity and reduce unintended teenage pregnancies and STIs (sexually-transmitted infections).

Christmas and the New Year are key times to discuss these issues as figures show that conception rates in the under-18s peak during December and January.

Maureen Pearson, North East area manager of Parentline Plus, said: "As the parent of a teenager you can't be with them 24 hours a day but there are things you can do to help keep them safe, while at the same time letting them gain some independence and freedom and, of course, have fun."

The charity knows that the Christmas and New Year period can be a time when festive spirit, combined with alcohol, can change people's behaviour. In fact, when asked why they had sex for the first time, 20% of men and 13% of women aged 15 to 19 said alcohol was the main reason. Research also shows that 40% of sexually active 13 to 14-year-olds were drunk or under the influence of drugs when they first had sex, and they are much more likely to regret it.

Too much Christmas spirit can result in teenage girls forgetting to take their pill, condoms not being put in bags or pockets before a night out, while after Christmas relationships can break up and just as quickly make up, all increasing the risks of unintended pregnancies and sexually-transmitted illnesses. Parentline Plus also hears from parents worried about their teenage sons and the charity believes it is crucial that conversations take place about the importance of being responsible, particularly when teenagers have been drinking alcohol. "We know that parents do want to talk to their children but they can often be unsure of how to go about it and when to do it", added Maureen.

"If the lines of communication around sex are opened up at an early age, then it becomes much easier to talk about sex and relationships and to give easy to understand messages on contraception and the importance of safe sex. "The sooner that parents can get these conversations going, the better." Evidence suggests that when teenagers talk to their parents about sex, they are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners and use contraception. But even though 86% of parents feel strongly that there would be fewer teenage pregnancies if more parents talked to their children about sex, relationships and contraception, there is still a reluctance to start those conversations.

Parentline Plus tips for the Christmas and New Year party season include: Before your teen heads for a night out, talk to them about not getting too drunk, suggesting they also drink lots of water, maybe alternating between an alcoholic drink and water.

Talk to them about the importance of sticking with friends and not putting themselves in a vulnerable position, for example, by getting a cab home alone. Also, ensure they have enough money, their mobile, etc.

Keep on about the importance of using an effective method of contraception to protect against unwanted pregnancies and STIs. If things don't go to plan and they do have unprotected sex, make sure they know that they can get emergency contraception free from their GP or local clinic within 72 hours. Emergency contraception is very safe and effective but works better the sooner it is taken.

General tips on talking to teens: Keep an open mind with your teen and listen to their point of view. Change the way you talk to them. If they only ever hear nagging they will stop listening. A chat before they go out or disappear to their room can make a real difference.

Decide when to stand firm, when to negotiate, when to let go. Your concerns about drugs and sex are more important than your feelings about the clothes they choose to wear. Your children need to know this.

Agree a bottom line with your partner or other carers and stick to it.

Understand why they may be behaving badly. They may be moody, aggressive or angry because they can't put their worries into words.

Don't take it personally. Teenagers often hit out at the people they most love and trust - not because they hate you but because they feel confused, stressed and uncertain. Remember what it was like to be a teenager. Did you fight, argue with your parents about staying out late and what you wore? It is all part of developing a separate identity. Don't be nosey. Teenagers will clam up if you insist on knowing every detail about their lives. Build up trust and show you respect their privacy and they will tell you more. For more information or advice about this, or a range of parenting issues, log on to the website www.parentlineplus.org.uk or call 0808 800 2222.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Oct 29, 2009
Words:932
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