As an adolescent, my parents never discussed anything human body-related; I subsequently got all of my (somewhat sketchy) information about sex, periods, etc. from my older siblings and friends. I’m thus determined to keep the communication channels open with Laurel (and she’s already been testing me here…). Today, Amy Cody offers ideas to help frame your conversations about sex and sexuality with your child:
“'When will I be old enough to have sex?' This is not an uncommon question for children and adolescents to wonder about. While it may be a challenging question for many parents to respond to, having the question raised can be a “door opener” for continued conversations about sex and sexuality. There is no correct or incorrect answer, but it may help to revisit the four themes of Let’s be Honest!, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts parent education program, as you think about what is best for your child. Take a deep breath, stay calm, and keep in mind that you are talking to your children because you care about their happiness and well being.
Parents and guardians, as primary sexuality educators of their children, have the right and responsibility to answer questions their children have. If a child asks for a parent’s opinion, they are interested in knowing what that adult thinks. Of course it is helpful to determine where the question is coming from. Is it possible that the adolescent has been thinking about becoming sexually active? Knows someone who is? Saw something on TV or other media that sparked the question? It can be helpful to determine where the question came from without jumping to conclusions.
A great way to start a response is “Wow! That is a big/tough/challenging/awesome…. question. I am really glad you asked me. I would love to talk to you and share my thoughts. I’m curious to know what brought it up in your mind?” Something along these lines as a starter can set a good beginning tone. It affirms the child for coming to you, and can help them feel good about her/himself to hear you begin your response this way. Remember, they may be very nervous or embarrassed to have asked the question. Adults will want to keep in mind that paying attention to feelings and self-esteem are important in helping them to make good decisions, and encouraging them to continue to come to you for conversations like this.
Parents need to communicate in ways that share their own values. One family may believe that pre-marital sex is wrong. Another family may feel that sexual expression among young adults in caring and committed relationships is acceptable. Whatever a parent’s thoughts and views, it is up to them to clearly communicate this to their child. In his/her response, a parent or guardian might bring up issues of faith, respect for self and others, love, commitment, self control, maturity, and postponement as they share their values.
While values may be individual, accurate information is universal. Parents should give their children the facts and knowledge they need in order to help them make healthy decisions. Facts and knowledge may include information about reproduction and pregnancy prevention for heterosexual couples, information about sexually transmitted infections, state laws about sexual activity and ages of consent, as well as resources.
Parents and guardians may not feel they have all the answers. It is perfectly okay to take some time to respond, gather more information and revisit those challenging questions. Kids need and want to hear what parents have to say. Keep those conversations going and don’t forget that effective communication involves good listening as well as sharing! Have fun!
Click here for more information about the Let’s Be Honest! parent education program or call 617-616-1658.