As parents, a lot of us have our fingers crossed. We hope our kids won’t have sex until they are grown. And that they will land on the easiest and least controversial path possible. It is a reasonable wish, but can’t be turned into a parenting goal without shutting down all relevant communication on the topics with our kids.
We may hope our kids don’t have sexual contact or sexual relationships until they are old enough to choose wisely, safely and responsibly. But they probably will. Statistically speaking. And even if they don’t have sex or sexual contact, they are having lots of conversations about sex and have been for years. We absolutely want to be one of the people with whom they are having those conversations.
They need us to teach them how to keep safe from rape, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Not with a standard lecture that causes their eyes to glaze over, but with an interactive discussion based on the details of the party they are telling us about; where people were drinking, some people were making out in private rooms, and how they were worried about one of their friends but didn’t want to interrupt their friends “date.” THIS is the conversation we want to make sure we are available for. THIS is the conversation where we can help them think about how to keep themselves and their friends safe. THIS is the conversation we get cut out of if we have a “no tolerance” approach to sex (or to drugs and alcohol).
And this is only one of the many conversations we want in on that relate to sex and sexual relationships. We want to be one of the people they are talking to about whether or not to date this person or that person, or anyone at all. “Peer pressure” doesn’t look like their friends telling them what to do; it looks like the craving to fit in and be seen favorably, and dating impacts image. In the details related to who kissed who and for how long, and who started to feel who up, there are rich conversations about how to negotiate what we want in a relationship, and what our partner wants.
We want to help them think about which of their friends are being called “sluts” or “players,” shamed for being virgins, or embarrassed that they aren’t dating. We want to help them think about how crazy new love can make them feel, how out of control and destabilizing hormones can be, and how much relationships can hurt our other friendships if we don’t protect them.
There are hundreds of conversations about the nuances of building friendships and romantic relationships, and having sex and sexual relationships, that are key to our children’s’ development into healthy stable adults with successful love and communal life. We are reduced to unheard lectures about these topics if we can’t tolerate hearing about what they and their friends are doing.
The reason we want to know any thoughts or questions our kids have about sexual orientation and gender identity is because of the rates of suicide among young people who fear familial rejection. Regardless of whatever hopes and dreams, fears and worries, we may have about issues of orientation and identity, regardless of our political and societal views of these issues, most of us would do whatever we can to reduce our children’s’ risk for suicide.
Bottom line: whatever fears or concerns you might have as a parent about your kid being gay, lesbian, trans or differently gendered, if you want them to make it into adulthood, they need your help.
So, hopefully you are convinced that you want in on all these conversations. Here are 6 openings.
First, practice your best teenage nonchalance cool. Casual, while you are chopping vegetables, or waxing the car, with minimal eye contact. All jokes aside, you are giving them space to figure out what to answer, how to answer, how to read you, to assess what you can handle hearing.
I wish I had some pithy quote here about how are kids aren’t ours, but just ours to love, or how the universe isn’t as we would design it. Ultimately what I know is all of us who love our children hope that we can be there for them in hard, confusing or painful times, but that to do that, we must let them know we will lovingly receive even hard realities.
Clink on these links for other posts that might interest you: