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:
_______ 1. Get Involved
Many parents remove themselves from conversations about sex with their teens because parents think their advice is not valued. Teens report that they really need the support of their parents, even if kids don’t come out asking for it. In an effort to respect privacy and boundaries (or their anxiety), parents stay clear from talking with their teens about sex. On the opposite, other parents can be on 24-hour alert, smothering their child’s need for independence and to discover their sexuality. Most agree that “good balance” is the goal. This requires clear and honest communications and maintaining moderation between guidance and freedom. Find out about what your kids need to learn about sex at each stage of their development and meet their needs. Initiating opportunities to talk together is critical for nurturing your child’s healthy sexual development. Keep in mind that if you don’t respond their needs, they will seek answers from “somewhere.”
_______ 2. Share Values and Beliefs
It’s healthy for kids to challenge their values and beliefs, and this is a natural sign of maturing. Sometimes our kids’ thoughts and actions may have us questioning if this is the same child we raised. As teens experiment to explore their self, they may protect their parents as they venture off the straight and narrow. Parents can be understandably alarmed when learning about the unknown sides and edges of their teens’ activities. Calm and open discussions are essential. It’s not unusual to find that your child is resistant to your logic (telling you that “you don’t get it”), as emotions, hormones, and their sense of being “cool” drives their moral compass. After all, teens are in the midst of sorting through many conflicting messages. Monitoring a “loving and firm” stance is critical—and in the face of desperation, when you feel that you’ve made every attempt to reach your kid and you’re not getting through, do not fuel the stereotype of the authoritarian parent with the rebellious youth by engaging in oppositional, negative debates. You do not want to pursue battles that lead you to want to abandon your child from an argument spiraling out of control. By overreacting and feeling overwhelmed you can push your child away, who may feel shut off and shut down, leading down the dangerous highway from privacy to secrecy. Remember, our kids make their own choices (not ours). Stay the course: the values and beliefs that you instill are nurtured and will eventually bear fruit healthfully as a result of understanding and positive encouragement.
(To be continued.)
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, https://www.facebook.com/drchirban and https://twitter.com/drjohnchirban.