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Being an askable adult, from a Behavioral Perspective

Many of us may remember having “the talk” with an adult in our lives, and many of us may have never had a trusted adult to speak to about sex and sexuality. No matter which of these experiences you had, you might find yourself in the position of having these conversations with your own child.

While the Parent Education program at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts can’t tell you exactly what you should say to the young people in your lives, we have many tips to start and guide these conversations. One tip: be an askable adult.

Being an askable adult means that you are approachable and that make space for the young people in your life to come to you with any question. Young people will turn to askable adults for information and values before going to other sources (friends, the internet, etc).

How do we become askable adults?

We focus on validating our child’s questions; this makes it okay to ask questions in the future. To encourage our kids to talk to us about sex, we try to make a “safe space” where all questions are okay. Once the questions are asked, our answers model behavior that aligns with our family’s culture and values. This means that we need to truly reinforce the behavior of asking – regardless of the content of the question.

How do you validate and reinforce asking?

Respond with, “Great question” or “I’m glad you asked.” If you are able to, answer the question.  If you are not sure about the answer, you can be honest about that, too: “I can’t answer that right now, but I’m glad you are bringing things to me.” Then follow up and have the conversation later.

Behaviors that are reinforced, by definition, occur more often. Effective reinforcement will look different for every individual – and you know your child best.  To be a successful askable adult, validate the asking, be yourself, and keep doing it, over and over again. Look out for more information about the frequency of “the talk” in our next Parent Buzz.