Teen Q&A

Teens, ask an anonymous question

At Teens Have Choices, we often speak to teens at community events, clubs, and school assemblies. We always invite teens to ask about anything that’s on their minds, and we do our best to provide a response that is both sincere and caring, while pointing them to additional resources that may be needed. Many teens don’t feel comfortable openly discussing sexuality or are too embarrassed to ask about something that’s been on their mind. Teens, here’s where you can ask your question anonymously.

Please understand that we do not dispense medical or legal advice. When dealing with medical concerns, we urge you to seek professional medical advice, and we always urge you to speak with your parents, guardian or other trusted adult. If you are in immediate physical danger or experiencing a medical emergency, call 911. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline  (1-800-422-0009) or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org. The Trevor Project (1-866- 488 -7386 ) provides resources for GLBTQ youth.

Want to see some questions we’ve answered? Keep reading.

Comments or questions are welcome.

We’ll update this page regularly with the questions we get from teens. Please note: we might edit lengthy questions or inappropriate comments. We’re not able to respond directly to anonymous questions.  If you’d like a direct response to your question, please contact us.

Real questions from real teens

Here are some questions that we’ve been asked by teens in Washington County. Click on the question to read our response.

Teen Question: I had sex and now I constantly have to go to the bathroom… Is this a sign that I’m pregnant?

While it’s true that pregnancy can make you need to urinate more frequently, there may be other reasons that you’re experiencing these symptoms. For instance, you may have a urinary tract infection or a sexually transmitted infection. The only way to know for sure is to see a qualified medical professional as soon as possible. Free and confidential services are available to Washington County teens to screen for pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and related conditions. If you are pregnant, you can get counseling about options, decision-making, and how to cope. These clinics also offer free, confidential contraception services to help you avoid a pregnancy if you choose to remain sexually active.

WHO TO CALL:

Visit our local health services page for more information about services, hours, and location.

My best friend may or may not be pregnant. I want her to get tested, but she’s scared. What do I do?

An unplanned pregnancy at any age can be scary, but your friend can’t let her fears keep her from finding out her status. First, encourage your friend to get a pregnancy test as soon as possible from a qualified medical professional. A qualified medical professional will also be able to screen and treat your friend for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The clinics and agencies listed below provide these services free of charge. Go with her, if she wishes.

In addition to being scary, this can be a very confusing time for your friend. She will immediately face very difficult decisions – and she can’t put them off. She may be afraid to talk with her partner or her parents. Her family may be upset at first, but families usually end up being a strong source of support.

If your friend isn’t pregnant, she needs to decide right away how she is going to prevent a pregnancy in the future. The only sure way is not to have sex. But if she decides to remain sexually active, she can get good advice from a doctor or family planning clinic.

WHO TO CALL:

Counseling about options, decision-making, feelings and how to deal with pregnancy is available.

Visit our local health services page for more information about services, hours, and location.

Should I tell my mom I had sex awhile ago? And I'm 13

Talking with your mom is a great idea for a number of reasons, even though the discussion may be an awkward or even embarrassing at first for her or for you. If you ask your mom, she would probably tell you can always talk to her about anything, no matter what, and she will love and support you. Sometimes that can be hard to remember when you are thinking about sharing news that may be upsetting to her, but in the long run, you will feel better not keeping secrets from her. And wouldn’t you rather she heard this news from you than for her to find out some other way?

Having had sex may have raised all kinds of questions and emotions for you. Relationships are complicated! Most younger teens who have had sex tell us that they wish they had waited. Whether or not that describes you, being able to share your thoughts and concerns with your mom can be a real relief. Your mom can talk with you about your decision to have sex, provide emotional support, and answer any questions you may have. Because young people are at greater risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), often with no obvious symptoms, we recommend that you get screened for STIs at one of the clinics available at no cost to Washington County teens or at your own doctor’s office. Your mom may want to go with you and can also help you select a birth control method that’s right for you.

So, how to go about having that talk? Ask your mom for some private time so that the two of you can talk without any interruptions. Be respectful of your mom and keep your cool even if she gets a little emotional. Ask her to listen, and then be sure to listen to her. Good luck!

One final note for teens who feel they absolutely can’t talk to a parent: please talk with another trusted adult.

I'm 13. I broke up with my bf about 4-5 months ago. We dated for about 8 months and I was his 1st gf. A week ago I sent him a letter letting him know exactly how I feel, but instead of me giving him it my mom did because I was too scared. I was planning on texting him next week and asking him how he felt about me if he wanted to. I miss him so much, but don't know how long to wait and what to do. What should I do?

Thanks for your very honest and heartfelt question! I hope I can provide some help and also assure you that you aren’t the only girl to regret a breakup! I have been there many times myself and can tell you it’s incredibly hard to deal with, no matter how old you are.

So first of all, there are a couple of things that you need to ask yourself: 1. Why did you break up with him in the first place? Has anything changed since you broke up? Like, does he have some annoying habit, some jealousy issues, or some different values than you do? 2. Also, what is it that you miss about him now? Is this something important and exclusive to him or do you just miss having a bf?

If you broke up over something important like your values, or you think you might just miss having a boyfriend, then you should work on getting over him and moving on. Write down what it is you liked about him and save it somewhere like a journal. Sometimes it’s cool to look back at it later on when you are thinking of dating someone else and see if that person has any of the qualities you liked (or disliked!) about you ex.

On the other hand, if you broke up over something silly, and you miss him because of who he is, then your best bet is to send him a “we need to talk” text. It might be scary to do that, but you owe it to him to tell him how you feel in person or on the phone. If he doesn’t respond, you can (and should!) move on.

No matter what happens, keep the “big picture” in mind. The average age when women get married is 26. Twice your age! :) Everyone you date between now and when you get married will teach you something, whether it’s what you want in a husband, or what you don’t want in a husband, or most importantly, who you are as a person. I had boyfriends one after another from ages 15 till 27 and hated the times when I was single. But when I was 27, I took a break from dating to figure out who I was without a guy. And two years later, I met my husband and knew myself well enough to know he was exactly what I wanted! And 7 years later (as of Tuesday), I am really glad I didn’t get back together with my ex during that time, or go out with some less than perfect guy just because I got lonely.

At 13, it’s best to focus your energy on relationships with friends (male and female) rather than on always having a boyfriend. I know, it’s hard when your friends have boyfriends, but there’s a lot of great stuff you can do as a teen if you’re not tied to one person! You’re still figuring out who you are and what you like, and dating is part of that, but definitely not all of it.

I hope that helps. I have been there and I can tell you it always seems like a good idea to get back together, but pretty soon you’ll remember why you broke up in the first place! Good luck!

Is it bad that I drink and I’m only 17?

This is a really good question! Some people, myself included, remember when the legal drinking age for beer and wine was only 18. In that context, 17 doesn’t sound so very young, but now we know a lot more about the effects of alcohol on young people!

Teens who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher absence and poor or failing grades.
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in activities.
  • Legal problems, such as arrest for driving or physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses.
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development.
  • Physical and sexual assault.
  • Higher risk for suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related car crashes and other unintentional injuries.
  • Memory problems.
  • Abuse of other drugs.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  • Death from alcohol poisoning.
Why is alcohol especially risky for teens? Alcohol is bad for developing brains! Your brain is still developing until about age 25. Some of the most important changes in the brain occur between the ages of 10-21. Changing brains are more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. Not only that, but the younger teens are when they start drinking, the more likely they are to have a problem with alcohol later.
The teens we’ve surveyed often say they drink to have fun, fit in, or relieve stress. Think about why you drink….
  • Do you drink to be accepted by your friends or to improve your social life?
  • Are your grades starting to slip?
  • Have you ever blacked out or forgotten things because of drinking?
  • Have you ever  tried to stop drinking and failed?
  • Do you lie about drinking?

If you answered “YES” to even one of these questions, it means alcohol is impacting your life and it’s time to get help.

Local Resources

Alateen1-888-425-2666 (1-888-4AL-ANON)
Alateen is a fellowship of young Al-Anon members, usually teenagers, whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. Call the hotline from 8 am to 6 pm, Monday through Friday to find a meeting in your area.

Alcohol/Drug Abuse – 240-313-3314
Substance abuse and mental health services for teens offered by the Washington County Health Department.

ADAC (Alternative Drug and Alcohol Counseling) – 301-766-0065
Located in Hagerstown, ADAC offers a wide array of services including counseling to help resolve substance abuse issues.

Related Links

Teen Resources > Making Healthy Choices > Alcohol and Other Drugs

Above the Influence – ATI helps teens stand up to negative pressures, or influences.

The Cool Spot – The Cool Spot was created for kids 11-13 years old by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The NIAAA is the lead U.S. agency supporting research into the causes, prevention, and treatment of alcohol problems.

TeensHealth.org -  Information about alcohol, binge drinking, and what to do if you think you have a problem.

To get involved in underage drinking prevention in Washington County, please visit our page on Alcohol and Youth.

I'm not sure if I want to have sex. I'm 13, but I'm kind of feeling pressured. I'm confused.

Whether you are 13 or 31, sex can be confusing and stressful, especially if you are feeling pressured!

On the one hand, it might seem like all of your friends are having sex. (They aren’t, btw; more than half of local teens are NOT having any type of sex! And those who are, typically wait till they are much older.) And your hormones are certainly not helping the matter; they can confuse things even more and make it difficult to make a smart decision.

On the other hand, there are the consequences to think about: pregnancy, STIs, and the emotional toll that sex can have on you. Condoms are not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy or STIs, and are 0.00000% effective at preventing heartbreak, guilt, and gossip!

Sex is a great thing, at the right time: when you are in a steady, loving relationship or marriage, and when you can handle any consequences that might happen. Waiting is REALLY difficult, but not as difficult as dealing with being a parent at 13, or getting a nasty disease that will affect the rest of your life. The benefits of waiting until you are truly ready are worth some frustration and confusion right now, but will pay off when you are older.

In the meantime– find some friends who share your values and who want to wait to have sex. They can support you and help you stay out of situations where you might be tempted. Same with your parents or other adults in your life. They can help you to set boundaries so that you won’t have the opportunity to have sex before you are ready.

What if you feel pressured to have sex with your boyfriend because you’re afraid to lose him?

Because of the way you asked, you probably already know – deep down – the answer to this question. Knowing the answer, even if only in somewhere in your gut, doesn’t make it any easier to be in this situation or to deal with the pressure from someone you care about to do something you don’t want to do (or aren’t ready to do yet). Obviously, you care a great deal about this young man, which is admirable. Unfortunately, he’s putting you in a difficult situation by pressuring you to do something that is not in your best interest. If not having sex with him means you will lose him, then he is basing your entire relationship on sex – and that sounds like he may not care as much for you as you care for him.

I hope you will appreciate yourself enough to make this decision for yourself and not feel as though you have to bend to pressure.

By asking this question, you show that you are thinking things through, which is always a great idea. You are making a smart decision to think about your choices and your response to pressure when you are not in the heat of the moment and when your head is clear. Our teen resource booklet has tips for saying no.

Have courage in making healthy choices!

What do lesbians have to watch out for?...

This is a question we get a lot! Well, actually, a lot of times it’s a statement: “I’m a lesbian, so I don’t have to worry about STIs!” Hate to break it to you, but really the only thing you are less likely to get as a lesbian is HIV/ AIDS. (There is still a possibility of that too in the transmission of body fluids). But all the other STIs– chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, HPV, syphilis– they all are transmitted though body fluids or even just skin to skin! So the best protection is a female condom, or a latex barrier, both of which you can buy at a drugstore or get for free at a teen clinic. They are easy to use and will *reduce* the risk… though they aren’t 100%.

But at least lesbians can’t get pregnant, right? Technically, yes. But–get this– teens who identify as lesbians are actually more likely than those who identify as straight to get pregnant. There are lots of factors that go in to that statistic, but one is that often teens’ sexual identity is still forming, so girls who identify as lesbian might still experiment with guys… and would be less likely to use birth control since they think they don’t like guys. Make sense?!

Oh, and one other thing. Lesbians are just as likely as ‘straight’ teens to suffer the other side effects of sex: heartbreak, a bad reputation, shame, angry parents. It’s pretty much universal, no matter who you like or how you have sex.

The only thing that protects you 100% from any of these consequences is abstinence… just saying no to any form of sex.

Hope that helps! And if you want some additional resources geared toward sexual identity, here are some great links: Sexual Identity (from our resource booklet), The Trevor Project, It Gets Better Project, and YouthResource.

What can change do to yourself and to your group of friends?

The teen years are all about change! Bodies change and physically mature. Brains are developing (and will continue to develop until about age 25). All this is accompanied by a normal desire to be more independent, to do and to think for yourself. New interests develop, along with new friendships, as your self-identity develops and you figure out who you are.

Change can be exciting and scary at the same time. Change can come from new things in our lives – a new home, a new school, a new sibling or other family member, a new job. Change can come from loss, too: parents separate or divorce, a friend or loved one passes away, old friends and school are left behind as a result of a relocation, a parent loses his or her job and the family’s financial situation changes. Many books have been written about how to deal with change.

Because you didn’t limit your question to yourself, but included your group of friends, I’m guessing that this is where you are experiencing the changes that are causing you concern. Maybe you or others in the group have taken on new interests and you don’t have as much in common as you used to – sometimes friends grow apart. Maybe someone in the group has started doing things that make you feel uncomfortable: experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. Maybe it’s this all-too-common situation: a friend get a new romantic interest, starts dating exclusively, and neglects everyone else but the new sweetheart. Or maybe the change is as fundamental – and as huge – as moving from elementary to middle school, from middle school to high school, or from high school to college.

What’s a friend to do?

First, if you can, try to speak with your friends about what you’ve been experiencing. See how they feel about it and get their thoughts for how your group might want to deal with what’s happening. Second, understand and accept that friendships change. You may grow apart – this may or may not be temporary. You could be surprised to find yourselves better friends than ever after striking out on your own for a while. Meanwhile, continue to develop new interests and new friends.

For more information, take a look at Letrice Moten’s posts: What’s in a Friendship? (part one) and What’s In a Friendship? Part Two: When Friendships Go Wrong. You might also want to check out The Friendship Blog, starting with “A teen asks: How can I get my friendship back?” and “A teen asks: Why are friendships so fleeting?” If you’re a younger teen or tween looking for practical tips for putting a friendship back on track, check out PBS’ It’s My Life – When Friends Fight: Make Peace, Not War. Finally, if you are a teen girl, you might just want to check this entire month’s issue of Rookie, with its theme of Transformation (April 2012), especially Music to Change By.

What is a good age to start having sex??

The decision to have sex is an extremely personal one. If you ask your parents, they may say 40. Your friends will likely say, well, whatever age you are at the time you ask them, or whatever age they were when they first had sex.

The reality is that there is no “good age” that applies to everyone. We can give you some guidelines, though:

  • Set a goal for your self and then surround your selves with people (friends, significant others, even parents) who will help you to wait for that goal. If you want to wait till you are married, then you’ll need help setting limits on your time alone with the person you’re dating. If you want to wait till you are in a healthy, loving relationship, or till you have graduated, then get your friends to help you avoid the temptation to hook up. If you have a plan in mind before you are placed in a tempting situation, you are more likely to stick to your plan. If you have support from friends and parents, then it’s even more likely you will be able to wait till you are ready.
  • We encourage teens to choose to be abstinent, because sex is a big deal, and it’s not something to be entered into lightly. In fact, 75% of Washington County teens who have had sex say that they wish they had waited!
  • In order to have a healthy sexual relationship, a lot of maturity and responsibility is necessary. Be sure that you fully understand and are able to accept any consequences that can arise from having sex: emotional consequences like how it will impact your relationship, physical consequences like pregnancy or an STI, or social consequences like what your friends might say.
  • Despite what they say, everyone else is NOT doing it! According to a 2011 survey of Washington County teens, 51% of teens (ages 13-19) have not had sex of ANY type (including oral sex)! So if you feel like you are the only one of your friends who isn’t having sex, just remember that statistic!
  • Drinking and drugs can lower your inhibitions and make it easier for you to have sex, even if you aren’t ready. So avoiding drugs and alcohol can help you avoid having sex before you are ready.
  • Just FYI, the frontal lobe of the brain doesn’t fully develop until you are in your mid-20s. That’s the portion that controls logic and rational thought. So teens tend to be more impulsive and not always think through the consequences of their actions.
  • When you do choose to be sexually active– at whatever age– make sure you have talked about birth control options with your partner, and make sure they have been checked for an STI. If you aren’t comfortable having that discussion, then it’s probably not the right time or the right person!

Should I be able to pick the movie, instead of my mom picking it when I go to the movies with friends?

Good question! Parents and teens often disagree about what’s OK or not OK to watch or listen to. Maybe you can sit down with your mom and show her a list of what’s playing, and ask which movies she’d be OK with. After all, if you’re old enough to be going to the movies with your friends, you’re old enough to have a say in what you see, even if it is within the guidelines set by your parents. If there’s a movie you’d really like to see that she absolutely  won’t allow, you could check it out on a site like CommonSenseMedia.org which gives all the details of any language, drug use, love scenes, etc… it might not be as bad as she assumes (then again, it may be more more graphic than you would be comfortable with. If you’re with a guy or girl you like, and a graphic love scene comes up– AWKWARD!).

Being a teen is difficult, because you want to be more independent. But it’s hard for parents too, because they are used to being able to have some control over what things you are exposed to, and they still want to protect you. If you guys can sit down together and come up with a few good options that you’re both OK with, then it’s a win-win. Show your mom that she can trust you to make good decisions, and maybe she’ll be willing to give you some more freedom when she sees that you can handle it!

Is there a program that helps teen moms stay in school while raising a baby?

Parenthood is a leading cause of school drop out among teen girls. Only 38% of teen moms will get their high school diploma; only 2% will get a college degree by age 30. The Washington County Family Center helps young parents reach their educational goals by offering high school credit and GED programs along with parenting and other life skills training. Students who are still in high school have to be referred to the Family Center by their guidance counselor. Students who are already out of school can participate in the GED program. Childcare is available for children under 4 while their parents attend Family Center programs. These programs are available at no cost to teen parents. For more information, call 301-790-4002.

For teen parents who are trying to further their education, HCC’s Teen Parent Program provides educational support services to teen parents/pregnant teens who are Washington County residents.

I have heard of Mary's Place, what is it?

Mary’s Center is one of several local crisis pregnancy centers, which are staffed largely by volunteers. If you think you might be pregnant, we recommend that you see your doctor or one of the three local health clinics found on our site, all of which are staffed by medical professionals. If you are pregnant, it’s really important that you receive good medical care from the beginning!

Can condoms expire?

Yes. Just like a carton of milk has an expiration date, so do  condoms.

You’ll find the expiration date printed right on the packaging. An expired condom will weaken and lose flexibility, making it more likely to break and less effective at preventing pregnancy and STIs.  We referred to TeensHealth for additional information on this topic:

It’s not just the expiration date that matters, though. Sometimes condoms haven’t been stored properly and the material breaks down before the expiration date. If a condom ever seems dry, sticky, or stiff when it comes out of the package, don’t use it. Instead, get a new condom.

It’s best to store unused condoms in a cool, dry place where they won’t get creased (not in a wallet or pants pocket) or dried out. And never use oil-based lubricants such as lotion, massage oil, mineral oil, petroleum jelly, or baby oil with condoms because these substances can break down the material.

There’s no reason to use expired condoms. Teens can obtain free condoms at various locations in Washington County.

If I want to protect myself with a condom, wouldn't it be even better to 'double-bag' it?

A condom offers protection from both STIs (sexually transmitted infection) and unwanted pregnancy, but using two condoms at the same time (“double-bagging”) makes it even more likely that the condoms will break, undermining the best of intentions. Use one condom at a time and use a new condom every time. This is true for both male and female condoms.

When is my 'safe' time of the month?

We turned to the Washington County Health Department for this response:

“While many women will be more likely to become pregnant during the middle of their cycle, there is a chance of conceiving on any day of the menstrual cycle. This is particularly true if your periods are not regular. Any vaginal penetration by the penis can result in pregnancy even if your partner pulls out before ejaculating. Before ejaculation occurs, a small amount of lubricating fluid which may contain sperm can be released. Please feel free to call us at 240-313-3296 and speak with a nurse if you have any other questions. All services are confidential.”

Visit the Health Department’s teen page for more information about services for teens.

I heard you can use aluminum foil to prevent a pregnancy. Is that true?

No, aluminum foil is not a contraceptive. Teens will sometimes resort to desperate (and creative) measures to find cheap, readily available “birth control” that is neither safe or effective. In Washington County, you can get free condoms from the Health Department, the Community Free Clinic, Tri-State Community Health Center and Walnut Street Community Health Center.

Have a question of your own? You can ask us anonymously.

What is a good age to start having sex??