Conversations and topics beginning to feel awkward and uncomfortable for parents and kids alike? I know from fellow parents in the trenches that you are not alone. As we are nearing the end of the school year, and if you are a parent of a 5th or 6th grader, your tween may have just gone through Human Growth and Development Class or similarly named Sex Ed. If you are a parent of young ones and are already fretting talking about sex or you are a parent of a high schooler and you have fumbled through some of these conversations, keep reading…
Anya Manes is an educator who leads workshops and coaches parents on having open and honest conversations about sex and relationships (talkingaboutsex.com), she says, “To some, it seems like NOT talking about sex is the way to protect our children’s innocence. I understand why you might think so. However, research consistently shows that more conversations (not less!) produce the best outcomes.”
Another reason people are afraid to talk to kids about sex or other risky behaviors, like partying or drinking, is because they are afraid it will give them permission to do them and they would be more likely to do it. That is just not the case, the research shows, the more we engage with our kids and the more we talk about it, the more likely they are to make better decisions or to come to their parents when they have made a stupid one.
Be Brave my Friends. Have those courageous conversations. It is not all about the so-called “Sex Talk”. There are going to be so many opportunities to slide little lessons in (at any age, from birth on). It all starts with the relationship that you have and finding moments of receptivity for communication.
Little lessons – these important topics should be 3 minutes or less. Go longer and you have lost them…and the next time they may do whatever they can to avoid a potential “lecture”. If you keep it brief and don’t overreact or get all judgy (see below), you will have opportunities to come back to these.
Moments of Receptivity – Find, look for, or create moments when they are open to listening and talking. Unfortunately, tired mamas, this is not usually on our timelines, but on theirs…keep in mind, it may be at night.
** I promise another Blog Post on this topic – I get many requests for this one.
It doesn’t have to be, and really shouldn’t be, “Let’s sit down face to face and talk.” This is likely to feel confrontational. If it feels like a big deal, they will feel your nervousness and it will become a big deal. Engage in activities with them (playing catch, cooking dinner, long car rides to practice) and let the convos happen organically. Do it side by side so that you are not looking at them, it feels matter of fact. This way they can be embarrassed and think ‘I can’t believe she is talking to me about this’ – but it will feel safe for them.
Also you can use other things, like something you see on TV or hear on the radio, and use it to start the conversations. I find that most songs on the radio are about sex if you really listen to the lyrics, and at a certain age, your kids are understanding that too. When they start to ‘get’ this and giggle or raise their eyebrows, rather than being uncomfortable and avoiding it, use it as a teaching moment. Would you rather have your child learn what the lyrics really mean from their friends or from you, where you can have a critical discussion about how the song portrays sex or respecting women and how they feel about that? If they just went through a Sex Ed class at school, that is a great conversation starter too (notice I said, conversation starter, not 20 Questions…reign it in).
Normalize the topics around their changing bodies, love, and sex. Don’t overreact if they ask a zinger question. “Mom, what is a BJ?” It is like the child is saying to you, “What happens to the Moon during a Lunar Eclipse?” It is not like you need to explain the wonders of the Universe to your child, just like with sex you just do not need to explain it all. Use real words and talk calmly and naturally as possible, with as much or as little info is appropriate for their age (let them lead the way).
Suspend Judgment – which can be challenging because as parents we want to protect and warn our kids, but that comes across as harping on the negatives or judgment…and that doesn’t go well with teens, does it? If they tell you, “I think Amanda may have had a pregnancy scare.” And you freak out (naturally) and yell, “You are grounded from Amanda! What a little (fill in the blank)!” What do you think will happen? They will never want to come to you again. Instead, come from empathy, “That must be so hard for Amanda.” You want to respond well to other things their friends have going on, because if they see that you react well to a friend who got drunk at the party and got home, then they trust us to be approachable and understanding.
Lay the groundwork for this early. They need to see that we are the type of people that they will come to – not preachy or closed-minded. Rather, we are open and loving with guidance and influence, not control. Making your connection the priority. Love, self-esteem, boundaries, positive body image, sexual decision-making & relationship skills are all things that can start to be taught from birth. They are all connected and so important, especially in today’s hyper sexualized digital culture – you want to be the one your child turns to when they have questions.
Be Brave my Friends!!
In the trenches with you,
❤ – Laurie