- Sexuality is not just about sex. Sexuality is about gender, reproduction and sexual activity, but includes much more. Sexuality is also about feelings, attitudes, intimacy, caring, messages about being male and female, body image and sexual orientation. There are many opportunities to have conversations about this wide range of topics.
- Sexuality is a natural and healthy part of adolescence. Uncomfortable with the idea of your children as sexual beings? Remember how it was for you at that age and what you wanted to know. Family education can give kids a positive view of sexuality and can provide them with the information and skills they need to take care of their sexual health. And, research supports the fact young people who discuss sexuality, relationships, and values with their parents are actually more likely postpone intercourse.
- Know that children and teens want to hear from their parents. Teens cite parents as the number one influence on their sexual decision-making. Eighty-seven percent of US teens say it would be easier to postpone sexual activity if they were able to talk more openly about sex with their parents, but 37 percent of teens say that they have never had a single conversation with their parents on this topic. (The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy)
- Be connected with their world. Be curious about their interests (music, TV, sports, etc.) and know their friends.
- Affirm them. Complimenting and affirming them helps foster positive self-esteem and will help them to open up to you.
- Talk less, listen more. Ask questions that open the door for discussion. Inviting your teen to share her or his own observations and ideas with you can be a good way to ease into the discussion. Validate their questions and really listen without judging when they answer. Be an “askable” parent by rewarding questions with, “I’m glad you came to me.” It will teach your children to come to you when they have other questions and that you are open to talking with them about sexuality issues.
- Consider the “question behind the question.” The unspoken question, “Am I normal?” is often hiding behind many questions about sexual development, sexual thoughts and sexual feelings. Don’t wait until they ask a question to start the conversations – many children never ask questions.
- Choose the right times. Talk to them while they are in the car, having a snack, at bedtime and not when they are on the run or engaged in an activity like homework. Make use of daily opportunities that occur when you are with your children that make it easy to share your feelings and values.
- Be prepared. Learn about the sexuality education being taught in your community by talking with teachers, principals, school board members, youth groups and faith leaders. Identify resources that are available such as websites, books, and professionals.
- Talk about the joys of sexuality. Tell your children that loving relationships are the best part of life and that intimacy is a wonderful part of adult life.
- Share your values. Facts are not enough. Be willing to explore, define and share your own values on issues like contraception, abortion, sexual orientation, non-marital intercourse, and violence. Help your children to understand that other people may hold different values than those of your family. Teach them that respect for differences is important.
- It is never too late. Starting early and talking often is great but it is never too late to begin the dialogue. Conversations about sexuality should be ongoing. Don’t know what is appropriate to discuss at what age? Listen carefully and answer the questions that your child actually asks. Often, kids will start to “tune-out” when they’ve heard enough.
- Be honest. Communicate your feelings, values and the facts honestly. Don’t expect to have all the answers. Admit when you don’t know and invite your child to find the answers with you. And, it’s OK to feel and admit when you’re embarrassed or uncomfortable – your child can relate! Try to maintain a respectful and relaxed tone and tell your children you are talking with them because you love them and want to help them.
- You have a right to your privacy. If your child asks you personal questions about your own behavior, you have a right to say, “That’s personal, and I’d rather keep it to myself.” It’s possible to still have conversations about the theme behind the question. Respect a teenager’s privacy as much as we value our own. Also, despite some of your best intentions, your teen might simply want to end the discussion and move on to something else.
- Be a responsible adult. Respect your child’s right to have accurate and honest information about sexuality. Providing them with the information they will enable them to be good decision makers.
Suggestions for Talking with Youth