A mother of a teenage girl sits nervously biting her lip. They are awaiting the results of the teen girl’s pregnancy test. The mother breaks the silence, “I can’t believe we even have to go through this. Your dad and I taught you better than this. What will our family think? And friends think?”

The girl stares at the floor. Her eyes are red and puffy; it’s obvious she has been crying. The timer dings and the kind lady sitting across from them picks the test up. One line. Heavy sighs of relief. She is not pregnant. This is good news.

Relieved, they are both ready to get out of there. Obliging the volunteer, they pause for prayer and then politely thank her for her help. As they leave, the mother is overheard as saying “no more sleeping with this boyfriend of yours, but if you do, you better be smarter about protecting yourself. “

There are just so many things misguided about this conversation. The mother obviously loves her child and brought her to a reputable place to seek help. She fears for her daughter’s future hence the warning about future sexual activity. But …but. There’s that word. So much said, so much implied with those three small letters.

Telling anyone not to do something then qualifying your warning with the word “but” as in but IF you do….and then giving an alternative message is quite damaging. This implies that something is preferred but the other is acceptable. And actually more probable. It’s like saying “don’t speed but if you do, don’t get caught.”

According to an article titled Teen Sex: The Parent Factor published by Heritage Research, author Christine Kim cites three studies of teenagers that back this up. Most notable was longitudinal data collected of students ages 12 to 16 in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles County which found that perceived parental disapproval of teen sex reduced the likelihood of teens engaging in sex. Kim states “To ensure that teens perceive their parent’s disapproval of teen sex accurately, parents should unequivocally convey their values to their teens. Mixed messages could potentially diminish any positive effects parent’s values have on delaying teen sexual behavior.” In a national poll teens were asked, “Suppose a parent or other adult tells you the following ‘Don’t have sex, but if you do, you should use birth control for protection’ Do you think this is a message that encourages you/teens to have sex? One in two responded yes, indicating that to many teens, a qualified no translates into a perceived yes.”

So, the takeaway here is simple. Let your no be no. Clearly state your expectations and your belief they can achieve the standards you expect. We know the healthiest, best choice for our teens today is to delay sexual activity until marriage, so why give them any alternative? Instead, make sure your message is clear and supportive of them making healthy choices for their future.