Community View: Parents and Teens Need to Have "The Talk," The Journal News, October 14, 2012
By Reina Schiffrin
Sex isn’t always the easiest topic for a parent to bring up, but it’s crucial if you want your child to make smart decisions about their relationships and behavior. Studies show that teens who have good conversations with their parents are more likely to delay sexual activity, have healthier relationships and — when the time comes — protect themselves against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
That is why Planned Parenthood is using Let’s Talk Month (October) to encourage parents to talk to their children and adolescents about sexuality-related topics. Like it or not, the reality is that most teens have sex before graduating from high school.
A just-released survey — from Planned Parenthood, Family Circle magazine, and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU — asked detailed questions of more than 2,000 parents and teens and came up with a roadmap for how parents can maintain an ongoing dialogue about these issues. The article, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Sex Talk (But Were Afraid to Ask),” is in Family Circle’s November issue.
The survey showed that while most parents and teens are talking about sex, they aren’t always communicating. Parents, for example, think they are having these conversations more often than their teens think they are, and surprisingly, teens are actually much more uncomfortable talking about sex than their parents. Half of all parents and just 18 percent of teens said they feel very comfortable having these talks.
Knowing their teens aren’t so comfortable can help parents approach these conversations differently. Parents need to be clear about what they’re saying, and they need to have these conversations multiple times in order to get through and to build their teens’ comfort level talking about sex and sexuality.
The findings also underscore the need for comprehensive sex education in schools. However, according to a New York Civil Liberties Union report that came out last month, you can’t count on that happening. The study, “Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York’s Students,” showed that most public schools in New York are doing a poor and inconsistent job when it comes to sex education. This only reinforces the fact that parents should be making sure their kids have accurate information.
The new survey found that parents do usually know if their teens are having sex. In fact, 80 percent of parents of sexually active teens knew about it. That statistic underscores the continued importance of conversation as parents play a critical role in helping their teens protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
It also seems that while parents are talking about sexuality, they aren’t talking as much about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases and how to say no to sex.
As a leading provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic (PPHP) spends a lot of time talking with parents about how they can help their teenagers make informed decisions. Professional educators offer free two-hour “Let’s Talk” programs that can be tailored to parents and caregivers of children from toddlers to teens. This year, PPHP’s sex education programs have reached 20,000 children, teens and adults in Westchester, Rockland, Putnam and Suffolk counties.
A set of new and updated resources to help parents and teens get more comfortable talking about sex, including a humorous video, flipbook featuring actor Cynthia Nixon, and numerous tips, should help parents begin, or continue, the conversation. Visit www.plannedparenthood.org. To arrange for a “Let’s Talk” program for a PTA or other organization, call (914) 220-1038.
The writer is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic.