I’ve always aimed for transparent and honest conversations with my children.
When they were younger, I felt secure in talking about almost anything. When it came to sexuality, we named body parts correctly, looked at anatomy books, and discussed the bodily changes they could anticipate.
Then the game changed. The rules changed. And my children changed. Puberty arrived!
What they wanted to wear, their hairstyles, even what they smelled like was new. All of a sudden, it wasn’t the functional information that mattered. We had entered the realm of emotions, social pressures, and hormonal developments.
How well did I manage these changes and support my children? What could I have done differently? What do we as parents need to know?
These were my thoughts when we had a recent family dinner. All three of my teenage children, two of them now adults, were home. It was a Saturday night and no one was in a hurry to get away. We enjoyed the meal, and between Thai meatballs and dessert, I asked a few questions.
Youth have a lot to say.
They surprised me with how much they had to say and how willingly they voiced their thoughts. They talked about what they thought was helpful, shared stories of friends, and affirmed the fact that the conversation is an important one.
I wrote down their ideas that night and over the next few days filtered them through years of working with youth in an educational context and in my experience as a mother. A few themes emerged.
Here are 10 tips from youth for talking about sex:
Tip 1 – We know more than you think.
We have peers who tell us about sex, and then they tell us more. The information and misinformation grows exponentially. What they tell us is not always accurate and typically is not helpful. And it certainly is not communicated with any finesse.
Tip 2 – Know your own facts.
Nothing makes you sound cheesier than misinformation couched in adult talk. You don’t have to know everything; you certainly shouldn’t pretend you do. But it is your responsibility to be knowledgeable if you intend to give sound advice.
Tip 3 – Tell us more, not less.
Don’t spare us the gory details. More information is good. Less leaves us wondering, curious, and apt to find the information in places and from sources that do not always have our best interest in mind.
Tip 4 – Have the conversations early.
Finding out about what happens to our maturing body from a classmate – or worse, puberty just happens – makes us feel powerless.
Tip 5 – Don’t talk to us – talk with us.
And if we are not interested, come back at another time. We might need a little time to process and warm up to the idea that we are going to have this conversation with our parents.
Tip 6 – Get to the point.
Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t use metaphors. The birds and the bees really do not have anything to do with this. Decide ahead of time what is important to convey and then have the conversations.
Tip 7 – Don’t ask too many questions.
A few are fine, and if we don’t respond, give us time to think and process the information, but please don’t drill us. Even though we act like we are not, we are listening.
Tip 8 – Have more than one conversation.
You might not cover all the necessary information to prepare us for puberty in one conversation. This is a pretty big topic. Be open and capitalize on opportune moments as they are presented.
Tip 9 – Trust us.
Your wishes and values are your own. We respect them, but our sexual choices and safety will come down to our actions and decisions. And these will happen when you are not around. Your role is to support, guide, and encourage – not to control.
Tip 10 – We look to you.
We wish there was a better (less painful, easier) way to convey this information than a conversation, but there is not. If we read a book, watch a movie with sexual content (and which one doesn’t have that?), or talk about sex with a peer, there is the possibility of miscommunication.
The best way not only to convey the information but to build trust and your relationship with your child is to have a conversation. And then, have another one.
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