Adolescence is a traditionally tricky minefield to navigate for parents. Having “the talk” is the easy part compared to watching your precious little baby blossom into a sexually active teenager. There is no absolute right way to discuss sex, but there are a whole slew of wrong ways that can damage a young person's ability to grow into a sexually healthy adult.

Parents put a lot of stress on the physical aspects of sex. However, the psychological effects of being taught overly-negative or flat-out false information can do a lot more permanent harm than most adults realize. Though kids will react differently based on their individual personalities, a sex-negative approach is never beneficial to parent or child. While the parent demolishes their teen's chance to build a genuine sexual identity, any respect, trust, or chance at a fulfilling parent-child relationship are simultaneously destroyed.

My mother was a self-proclaimed “helicopter parent.” She meticulously hovered over (read: controlled) the activities, social lives and personal development of her two children. She was loving, protective, and dedicated, as any parent should be, but she also denied her kids the ability to create their own identities and values. Teens need guidance and lessons to grow into happy, functional adults. However, teens also require the freedom to choose and form independent ideas. That's what we were missing.

Like most moms, mine was fond of saying, “you'll understand when you're older.” Now that I've reached the age when my mother decided to become a parent, I still disagree with her methods. She was right about developing an understanding, though. I understand that there are myriad ways to coach teens as they figure out their sexual selves. But, unlike my mother, I think positivity is the key.

Communication Beats Control

There is a fine and often blurry line between protecting children and over-sheltering them, especially when it comes to sex. The latter is not a sustainable, productive approach, as it denies teens choice and growth opportunities. It can also break the trust between parent and child. At least that's what happened to me.

Anything remotely sexual that crossed the threshold of my childhood home was censored to the extreme. Issues of Cosmopolitan magazine had words like “sex” and “masturbation” blacked out with marker. The Victoria's Secret catalog was ripped right out of my hands if my mother couldn't throw it away fast enough. As I entered adolescence, it only got worse. Favorite CDs were confiscated if they were discovered to contain sexual lyrics. I often found myself grounded and the computer off-limits after my mom snooped through my online chats with friends or Internet history. I was frequently punished for being a typical, sexually-curious teenager and developing views that didn't mirror my mother's.

Helicoptering doesn't teach teenagers not to want sex, make dirty jokes online with friends, or enjoy certain music or movies. It just builds anxious adolescents who come to mistrust others and feel a constant need to lie. Some teens will learn to repress parts of their personalities, only to have everything come bubbling back up in a more negative form later in life. Other kids may act out, often engaging in risky behavior as a way to take back their independence.

Parents can make great compasses for their children, but teens need to be allowed to choose their own direction. Checking up on teenagers is beneficial as long as parents can observe without freaking out over trivial incidents, like discovering that your daughter browsed through a few porn websites. You can't force your kid not to seek out sexual knowledge, but you can communicate openly, honestly and fairly about their interests without judgment or punishment. Teens will see you as a source of wisdom and guidance instead of a ball and chain.

Don't Shame Others for Their Choices

My mom could have won an award for slut-shaming long before the term existed. I was taught constantly, even at the age of 5, that “dressing sleazy” meant a woman's head was full of air and that she probably struggled with her mental health. I was warned not to watch porn because the women on screen were “just supporting a drug habit.” People who enjoyed BDSM play, regardless of consent between partners, were “sick in the head.” Before I was even old enough to figure out what I liked, my mother was bashing all sexual practices that didn't fit into her narrow views.

Shaming and finger-pointing are awful tactics to use with kids. On top of teaching young people to judge and bully others, it ruins a parent's credibility. It's bad enough that children will grow up believing it's normal to speak negatively of others, but they may also come to see their parents' comments for what they're worth. Even before I hit my teen years, I knew there had to be more to these “slutty” or “sick” individuals than what my mom assumed from their sexual practices alone.

If you can't say something positive about other humans in front of your children, don't say anything at all. Teens will run into enough bullying and judgment as they navigate adolescence. Teach young people to rise above external pettiness and engage with individuals who have different tastes and lifestyles. Practicing acceptance instills essential personality traits, like kindness and confidence, that build happier, more stable young adults.

Give Teens Freedom (And Quench Their Urge to Rebel)

Americans are known for keeping teen sexuality in a cage. Our peers across the ocean have long known that caging such natural, instinctual desires simply doesn't work. Many parents in Scandinavian countries, for example, permit co-ed sleepovers (note that the legal age of consent in Scandinavia is between 15 and 16) and find that their children are more likely to practice healthy judgement in their sexual behavior. Many American families still function under the idea that repression is the best method in child-rearing. The joke is on them when the kids finally move out. Like a caged puppy, teenagers will bounce off the walls of rebellion once released.

My mother thought that preventing her kids from even coming across the opportunity to rebel would kick our devious streaks. When I finally got to college, I could hardly concentrate on my classes. Instead, I scrambled to experience all the things I'd missed out on as a teenager my freshman year, trying everything I felt I was denied while living at home. I felt justified because these choices were finally mine, but realistically, my need to run wild was a product of stunted growth; of being released from my cage.

The key is to teach your kids how to question their decisions when they leave the nest. Instead of punishing your daughter for sneaking out in her mini skirt, ask her why she enjoys wearing it. Is it because she's been pressured by peers or her crush, or does she love the way it compliments her legs? Regardless of her answer, allow her to wear the skirt. She'll respect you for giving her freedom of choice while contemplating the lesson you'd like to instill. If your daughter decides she isn't wearing that mini skirt for positive reasons, it'll be in the trash in no time. Either way, she'll retain the confidence earned in making a grown-up decision on her own. (Read about one sex positive parent in Why I Decided to Teach My 6-Year-Old About Condoms.)

Do The Unthinkable – EARN Your Child's Respect

Kids are expected to simply trust in and obey every parental command based on the rule of Because-I-Said-So. Respect for adults isn't supposed to be something earned, but rather granted on account of age difference. My mother believed that her age was enough to justify her negative views on sex; that with age automatically comes the ability (and the right) to judge what's sexually right and wrong for others.

Mom prided herself on being a prude throughout her teen years. She bragged about never rebelling, telling stories of her disinterest in the free-loving, joint-rolling days of the 1970s. She also put me through hell for wanting to experience a different teenhood. I was supposed to mirror her opinions because she held more life experience. However, she contradicted herself by taking pride in never having such typical teenage desires in the first place. Her distaste for mini skirts, porn and promiscuity weren't borne from personal experience. She disliked such things out of nothing more than personal taste, but attempted to force me to share her opinions in the name of sage wisdom.

Using this method of parenting destroyed my respect for her. Even when she had something valuable to offer, I couldn't help but be skeptical. Without your child's respect, the lesson is completely lost. Kids might still avoid the behavior you find unsavory, but it will be out of fear of punishment alone. Even worse, they might push themselves further into unsafe situations when given the opportunity to rebel without mom finding out. Because-I-Said-So doesn't work because it doesn't teach anything.

No one gets everything right and teaches their kids everything they could possibly need to know. When it comes to sex education, teens won't expect you to have tried the entire Kama Sutra, but they will expect you not to knock something you don't fully understand. If your daughter takes an interest in bondage and you can't fathom a night in furry handcuffs, forgo the lecture on your opinions of “proper” sexual behavior. Forcing her to quell her desires won't allow them to develop (or fall to the wayside) in a natural way. Instead, encourage your daughter to research her curiosities and discover why she feels pulled towards certain kinks. Likewise, do your own research and help guide your teen toward safe options for exploring her sexual interests. Through mutual respect, parents can aid their children in navigating new and occasionally confusing sexual needs.