Caught Your Teen Masturbating? How to Cope

 teenager's feet in bed

It doesn't get more awkward than this: you open your teenager's bedroom door and -- yikes! -- you catch him in the middle of a very private, pleasurable activity. Of course, sooner or later pretty much all teens and tweens will experiment with masturbation, but perhaps you were hoping it would occur below your radar on a don't ask, don't tell basis. But now that this topic has reared its head, so to speak, you are mortified, and tongue-tied, and stumped on what's the best way to react.


For starters, know that uncomfortable though this moment may be, this behavior is as normal as it gets for teens and tweens, boys and girls. Some just luck out better at hiding it than others.

"It is reported that 90 percent of boys and 60 percent of girls under 18 masturbate," says Darby Fox, a child and adolescent family therapist. And while you are bound to feel uncomfortable knowing that your child is, er, growing up in that way, you need to man up and handle this with aplomb -- or else you risk emotionally scarring your child for life.

"The worst thing a parent can do is to freak out and act as if the child has done something wrong," says Robert Weiss, a therapist and the Author of the book Always Turned OnIf your teen was watching porn, same goes for anything you spotted on screen, no matter how disturbing it looks at first glance. "This type of overreaction creates emotional trauma that can have lasting effects and may influence the child’s sexual beliefs and behaviors -- and ability to emotionally attach in healthy ways -- for the remainder of his or her life," warns Weiss.

More from The Stir: My Son Watches Porn: Is It Normal?

Ideally, parents should try to have the masturbation conversation before adolescence sets in. "That way, an 'oops' moment isn’t the first time this conversation takes place," says Weiss. But if you're instead confronted with this issue, well, there's no time like the present!

So here's what to do: if you walk in your child, simply apologize for the intrusion and back away. But from there, you shouldn't just act as if nothing has happened, since this may only heighten your child's fears that he's done something awful. So once the teen has emerged from his room, again apologize for the intrusion, then lay out the welcome mat for further discussion.

Worried you'll trip over your words? Try something like this: "I’m sorry that I walked in on you while you were doing something private. I want you to know that even though we are both feeling a little bit embarrassed right now, I am not judging you in any way. Masturbation is a normal and healthy way to experiment with your sexuality. I am glad that you are growing up and becoming interested in adult things. I also want you to know that I’m perfectly willing to answer any questions you might have about masturbation or sex at any point, no matter how uncomfortable you might feel asking them or I might feel hearing them."

From there, the ball's in your kid's court -- don't pursue the conversation unless he initiates on his own. "This subject does not need a lot of conversation unless your teen asks," says Fox. "They will most likely look to other sources or peers if they want to discuss anything. Don't make the mistake of becoming involved in something that doesn’t need your guidance. Allow your teens to experience this natural individuation in their own way. It sends them the sign you accept and support their growing independence."

Parents may also want to consider adding locks to teens' bedroom/bathroom doors if they’re not there already, and agree to knock before entering the teen’s space as a way to ensure their desire for privacy.

"Ultimately, the goal here is to normalize the teen’s behavior," says Weiss. Show your teen or tween you're cool with it without heading into TMI territory, and you've successfully navigated this tricky topic with your (and your child's) dignity more or less intact.

How do you feel about your teen masturbating?


Image via © Radius Images/Corbis

Read More >