This is part two of a series on kids and sexuality:
Parents are often behind the eight ball when it comes to discussing sex with their kids. Even when they get over their discomfort and get to “the talks,” the counsel is too little, too late. Nonetheless, awkward or not, sooner or later, the significance of your conversations with your children about sex is indisputable. Studies confirm that kids who share a good relationship with their parents, and can honestly discuss their concerns about sex, dating, and love, are less influenced by peer behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and sex and report less depression and anxiety and more self-reliance and self-esteem. They are also more successful in school and develop more meaningful relationships.
Take this quick inventory to verify that you are coming through to give your kids the support they need concerning sexuality:
We know that the physical changes of puberty ignite the lightning rod of transformation for your child’s intellectual, emotional, relational, social, and spiritual thoughts and behaviors. As parents feel bewildered by the changes and the moods of their kids, the children are often investigating different roles while accepting and committing to few. Teens do not always communicate that they prefer spending time with their parents, nor can be expected to express lucid explanations to questions and issues that they have not sorted out for themselves. By sharing quality time together in settings that are comfortable for both of you, you permit your child to reaffirm trust and open up. It’s necessary for you to express your concerns. At the same time, let your children take the lead, follow their thoughts, participate in their world of exploration and activities. As the door opens to set the agenda, identify activities that they enjoy, participate in their world, and expose them to worlds that they may not know: watching different kinds of films, rooting in various sporting events, exposing them to cultural activities (art shows, museums, festivals), simply taking walks, doing something athletic together, and planning something with each other that neither of you have done before. Such personal time strengthens your bonds and deepens your relationship.
Clear, open conversation about sex, intimacy, and love are essential. Because teens take on the omniscient authority on several topics—particularly on “cool” topics like sex, it’s easy for them to dismiss parents as asexual or out of the loop. Therefore, they may decline and resist talking about “issues.” It’s easier to talk with your teens about sex if such conversations—addressing age-appropriate needs—essentially started in infancy. The growing independence of teens can make confident parents feel awkward and unprepared to kick off these discussions. Owning your honest feelings, including discomfort, rather than assuming an authoritative, inauthentic tone is the way to start the conversation. It’s very important that you share your thoughts, understanding, and guidelines on particular issues. For example, if your kids avoid speaking with you because they “already know everything about it” (whether from health class or their friends), invite them to share what they know so that you may understand what they’re thinking—and develop your discussion from there. As you discuss several important themes of sexuality, separate from your position, be sure to tap into and draw out their feelings and thoughts. These are among the topics you want to be sure that your teens have a reasonable handle on:
_____Male Anatomy _____Female Anatomy
_____Sexually Transmitted Infections _____Condoms
_____Pornography _____Sexual Arousal
_____Kissing and Hugging _____Dating Behavior
_____Sexual Feelings _____Oral Sex
_____Menstruation _____Birth Control
_____Sexual Abstinence _____Sexual Values
Share Your Love
While interpreting the meaning of moods during the roller coaster of adolescence is slippery, the most stabilizing antidote for uncertainty is achieved by your assurance of love. This confirmation or “reset” needs to be available through their encounter with you even in the midst of intense controversy and disagreement. Love, as your unconditional care, needs to be the higher plane to which you raise your child to discuss and reexamine particular thoughts and actions. Their encounter of real values (such as love) that you embody will reassure your child of your legitimate authority as you deepen your bond with this proof and larger lesson. Whether you watch the television with your child and create a forum for their active processing of the issues of daily life or invite friends to your home and talk about things at school, it’s important that your child walks away feeling that your care is what drives you, and that sets the stage for what they want to retain in their life.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex (Thomas Nelson, 2012), which clarifies what kids need at each stage of development and how parents can effectively communicate. For more information, go to dr.chirban.com and sexual problems.com.