My grandkids are 15 and 17 and they are starting to be sexually active. I am fearful that one of them will get pregnant. My daughter is a single mom who had her oldest when she herself was a teenager and it was—and continues to be—very difficult for her. What can I do or say to my granddaughters to discourage them from having the same thing happen to them?

Most teenagers believe themselves to be invincible. It’s difficult if not impossible for them to imagine something devastating or life-altering happening to them; in their minds, those sorts of things only happen to other people. Even with their mother as a living example of teen pregnancy, chances are your granddaughters are certain that kind of thing could never happen to them. 

If you approach the girls with a lecture, the odds are that they’ll dismiss what you have to say as irrelevant. No doubt they’ve heard all the reasons they shouldn’t be sexually active; the last thing you want to do is approach them in such a way that makes them assume that whatever you’re telling them is old-fashioned and unimportant.  

Instead of trying to figure out what you should say about their sexual activity, consider how to dialogue with your granddaughters so they’ll be receptive to your counsel. 

Most of us are resistant when someone comes at us with unsolicited advice or judgments. If you were to sit your granddaughters down and start right in with phrases like, “I don’t think it’s a good idea for you girls to be having sex,” or “You’re running the risk of getting ‘into trouble’ just like your mother did”, it’s more than likely that they would not be open to your words of caution.

If, on the other hand, you begin the conversation by letting them tell you about things going on in their lives, while listening respectfully, they will be less resistant. Ask them about boyfriends—without frowning or making negative comments. If you can manage your reactions and listen with an open mind, they’ll be more naturally willing to consider your input. 

For thousands of years, humans have learned important lessons through stories and fables. Whether it’s tribal elders orally sharing tales around the fire or the timeless parables in the Bible, we learn more by hearing how an individual dealt with personal challenges than from lectures about nameless, faceless people. 

After spending a few minutes listening to your granddaughters talk about their lives, ask them if they would be willing to listen to a story you’d like to share. If they say yes—which is likely if you’ve listened to them—then tell them about their mother’s pregnancy in a way that helps them understand how sure she was that she wouldn’t get pregnant. (If their mother’s story is too close to home, you can tell someone else’s story, or invent one.)

Simply tell a story, replete with her longing to be pursued, desired, or admired by boys. Reveal her conflict about being pressured by boys to “prove” her love or be liked. Reveal the feelings of remorse that often comes after a young woman chooses to be sexually active without love. And of course mention how an unwanted pregnancy or STD has altered your daughter’s life forever. 

Show your granddaughters that you understand the very real pressures and pulls that have influenced them to become sexually active. Acknowledge the struggle they must feel when they’re drawn to a boy yet unsure of whether they should be sexual with him. Allow them to tell you how difficult it is to say “No” these days. And if they insist on being sexually active, provide them with information on safe sex. 

Most of all, continue to let them know how special they are and what an amazing life awaits them down the road if they can make good choices today. Hopefully, they will come to take your advice to heart, and make decisions that reflect the guidance you have shared. Give them time, and meanwhile, keep loving them.

For lots more on supporting your grandfamily, register for Susan’s upcoming free 3 day online Grandparent summit. Details here!