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In celebration of Let's Talk Month, Get Real Teen Council high school youth and their parents/caregivers met in our Worcester and Boston offices. After sharing a delicious potluck, they answered the following three questions: 

  • What are the challenges for parents and teens in discussing sexuality with one another?
  • What are some strategies parents and teens use to overcome those challenges?
  • What are the main messages about sexuality that you would want to share with your parents/caregivers (or teen)?

Although the parents and their youth had some differing perspectives, they agreed that, while it might be uncomfortable to talk about sexuality with each other, they still want to do it without judgement or fear. Outlined below are the group's key discoveries about caregiver/teen communication:

Challenges to Communication:

Identified by Parents/Caregivers     

Identified by Teens     

Teens don't want to talk about sex with their parents

Parents don't want to talk about sex with their kids

Timing - knowing where and when and how to bring up the conversation

Fear of bringing it up and what parents will assume, ask, and want to discuss

My teen thinks they know it all already

Parents assume that we either don't know anything - or know everything. Either one makes it awkward

Fear of not knowing what to say or saying the wrong thing

Parents might have outdated information or use different language 

It's awkward

It's embarrassing

Parents sometimes take up too much space in the conversation

Fear of judgment, parental wrath, or even shunning

We hold on to our own teachings

Values - having different beliefs (religious or moral) about the topic makes it uncomfortable

Learning things about your child that you might not want to know

Fear of disappointing parents

Having different expectations about the conversation

Sex is always treated as a negative - as a problem or crisis that needs to be fixed

 

 

 

 

 

"One of my greatest fears is that my daughters won't come to me when it really matters. All that I want them to know is that, no matter what, I've got their back. If I have to tell them that every day I do. Even when they tell me it's really annoying I do it anyway!" - GRTC Caregiver

Top Ten Strategies for Communication:

(Combined Teen and Parent/Caregiver Responses)

  1. Use books, TV shows, media and other shared resources as a conversation starter
  2. Use humor
  3. Use nature as a guide and start early
  4. Talk in the car (and know that it's ok to say 'I don't want to talk about this right now' if boundaries feel pushed or if feeling 'trapped')
  5. Validate shared experiences (without feeling the need to share too much detail about those experiences) and acknowledge that times have changed
  6. Engage in a dialogue - not a lecture - and find space for compromise and common ground
  7. Start the conversation remotely, through texting, and then continue when everyone is calm/ready
  8. Use statistics, facts, and research in conversations 
  9. Be honest
  10. Recognize and 'own' the challenges and then keep talking - even if it's awkward

"One strategy that could work is to normalize the conversation. If every time the topic of sexuality gets brought up it's a 'crisis' then both people are going to be super uncomfortable and unwilling to talk. BUT, if the topic is more of an everyday or normal conversation then it won't be as hard or weird to talk when there's something really important that needs to be said." - GRTC member

Messages about Sexuality:

Caregiver to Teen     

Teen to Caregiver     

Sexuality is a beautiful thing. It is special and unique. It should be celebrated. 

Sexuality is a human topic. It's normal. 

I've got your back and I accept you no matter what. 

Acceptance over tolerance - Don't force values - respect our ability to make decisions. 

Everyone isn't having sex. Media is misleading. 

Don't assume that if your child asks about sex that they're having sex (Relationships don't always equal sex).

Be open-minded. 

We can learn from, and teach, each other. 

Safety is important. Be careful. Use a condom. 

Privacy is important - no surveillance - trust us. 

Respect yourself and your partner. 

Shaming us makes discussions about sexuality less accessible. Be open to our thoughts and feelings. 

Sex is a personal choice. There should be no pressure to have sex. 

Sexuality is not dirty and the sexuality of one's child shouldn't be treated as dirty or bad. 

You are valued. 

These conversations are important and they make a difference. 

 

 

"After Caregiver Night my parents and I had an actual conversation about sexuality for the first time in my life that wasn't just them telling me not to have sex. It was super helpful to get all our feelings and opinions out and explain stuff to each other!" -GRTC member