Top 10 Tips for Talking to Kids About Sex
We just got our kitten spayed, prompting many fruitful discussions with our kids, ages 11, 9 and 6, about sex drive and the consequences of unplanned pregnancies. Even our youngest can now give a brief, age-appropriate talk on the joys and perils of sex. The recent news that one-quarter of teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, along with the Eliot Spitzenfruede and the first photos of Jamie Lynn Spears "showing," got me wondering, yet again, why it is so hard for parents to talk openly, and productively, to their children about sex.
I found a teen health expert, Karen Lieberman Troccoli, who's also the mother of two kids ages 10 and 13, to help us out. Troccoli is a contributing author to the newly released book, Like Whatever: An Insider's Guide to Raising Teens and co-author of Like It Is: A Teen Sex Guide. She has worked in the field of teen pregnancy prevention for a dozen years, most recently at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and has a Masters in Public Health degree from Johns Hopkins University. Here's her advice:
When it comes to guiding kids on most growing-up topics, parents rarely hold back. Typically we're eager to offer thoughts on every aspect of our kids' lives (think drugs, talking to strangers, and responsible driving). Except one: sex. Why? Some parents say they don't know what to say, how to say it or how to start. Others figure they can't compete with friends or the media; some worry that discussing sex will drive their kids to do it; many fear their kids will want to know about their own sex lives; and some parents are in denial that their kids are even thinking about sex.
Believe it or not, solid research says that parents have the greatest impact on kids' decisions about sex -- more than the media or even their friends. To best influence our kids' decisions about sex and relationships, we need to step up to the plate. Here are a few tips:
1) Talk early and often. It's not "THE TALK" but rather an ongoing conversation. From early on be open about body parts, relationships, privacy, etc. These themes, started when our kids are toddlers, can guide us to and through adolescence. Even when teens act like parents are the last people they want to hear from, research says we're the first.
2) Be prepared. If you answer some questions for yourself first it will be easier to answer them when your children ask. How do I feel about dating? What strategies can I suggest to my child to resist peer pressure? What question do I most fear being asked?
3) Look for teachable moments. They're everywhere: television and radio programs; Halle Berry's pregnancy; song lyrics; teens holding hands in the mall. The idea isn't to turn all these moments into sermons, but rather to be aware of opportunities to ask your child what he or she thinks and then go from there.
4) Make sex ed a dialogue. Talking with kids about sex shouldn't be viewed as a parent talking to a child. It's talking with a child. This means listening and answering questions openly, even if you feel uncomfortable. Talking about sex is a chance not just to impart our perspectives to our kids, but to hear what's on their mind and why. It also is an opportunity to clear up misconceptions they have -- accurate information is key to good decision making.
5) Delay sex by talking about sex. Many parents worry kids aren't ready to talk about sex, or that talking will drive them to have it. These are very personal issues. But research has found that kids whose parents talk with them about sex are more likely to delay having it than kids whose parents don't.
6) Say why. Don't just tell your kids what you think. Tell them why. They care and they want to understand. They might not always agree with our reasoning, but they'll see how information and experience can be used to make important decisions.
7) Don't forget the boys. Sons talk less with parents about resisting pressure and birth control than daughters do. But they need the information just as much. While girls feel the most pressure to have sex from their boyfriends, boys feel it from their friends.
8) Never give an untrue answer. It can be dangerous for children to have inaccurate information. It's much better to admit to your child you don't know and that you'll find out. Or better yet, work together to find the answers online or at the library.
9) Don't jump to conclusions. Just because your teen asks questions about sex doesn't mean he or she is having it; and if your kid doesn't ask, don't assume he or she isn't. All kids -- no matter where they are on the sexual activity continuum -- should be talking with parents about these topics.
10) Know that your sex life is your sex life: Many parents worry that once the topic of sex is broached, all topics are fair game. Not so. Most kids don't want to know about -- or even imagine -- their parents' sex lives. If they ask, it's for perspective and guidance. It's fine to tell them that some things are private but that you're glad to talk about what prompted the question.
Next week: Send me your Tips for Marital Bliss so I can include them in next Monday's Top 10 Tips.
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