Talking About Sex: Ways to Listen so Your Kids Will Talk
- 2005 18 Oct
Some say talk is cheap, but not talking to your child about sex will be costly. Before you dive into this important topic, remember that sex is a deeply personal and relational topic. Talking about sex can’t be a onetime event. Let your child know that you want to be his guide on this very important and exciting journey as he learns about his sexuality. It may take him some time to warm up to the idea if he’s older – but before you’re offended by his responses to your efforts, remember that your relationship with him will determine how much he wants to know from you. Keep in mind that this journey is a process of engagement, teaching about the very essence of life, relationships, and sexuality.
The art of talking about sexuality will evolve as your child grows. Initially, the answers your provide may be very matter-of-fact, but as he matures, you’ll want to wrap your answers in the context of relationships and couple answers with the character traits, morals, and religious values you’re trying to teach. An important part of this journey of talking about sex and sexuality is to provide affirmation and permission to ask more questions in the future. You might something like, "I’m glad you asked that. I know that’s a difficult question to understand."
All relationships, especially parent-child relationships, should be grounded in a healthy respect for one another. In another words, as a parent, your primary concern needs to be what’s in the best interest of your child.
There is no other way to develop healthy relationships with your child than to enter into her world. As we mentioned earlier, this means understanding what her current needs, interests, and passions are. You can’t delve into the life of your child except by playing with her and understanding and listening to what she thinks, feels, and enjoys.
As your child matures, she’ll undoubtedly have more and more questions about sex and sexuality. In fact, she’ll not only have more questions but more experiences. Each of these experiences will allow you opportunities to boldly answer questions and affirm the thoughts, ideas, and growing identity of your child.
Tips for Success
Most parents wonder how they can become more effective at influencing their child’s thoughts on sexuality. Here are a few tips that might help you on this important excursion:
• Start early. Work your way up to talking about sex. Enhance your one-on-one skills with your child by discussing appropriate personal health and safety issues as he grows. It will be easier for both you and your child to talk about sex if you’ve already developed a rapport and pattern for discussing sensitive subjects. These might include personal hygiene, dealing with strangers, resisting peer pressure, avoiding substance use, and anticipating puberty changes.
• Believe in your child and build his confidence (and self-control). Both children and adults tend to overestimate the number of teens who are sexually active. Never assume your child is incapable of resisting temptation. Instead, equip him with knowledge, confidence, and unconditional love and support. Help him establish high goals and expectations for himself, and regularly praise him for his success.
Look for teaching opportunities and use them. Many parents admit they have a hard time finding a good starting point for a discussion about sex, but if you’re observant, you’ll find natural "launching pads" for discussion all around. It might be a provocative commercial on TV, a popular singer’s attention-getting wardrobe, or a graphic sex scene in a movie.
• Relax and create an open environment for talking (and listening). Your child can tell when you’re uptight. In order to foster an environment that’s conducive to meaningful discussion, you need to be calm and confident. Encourage your child to ask anything he wants (and thank him when he does). If you don’t, he’ll probably seek an answer somewhere else. Don’t overreact to something he says, even if it’s not what you expected to hear. The goal is to make your home the preferred place for discussions. Don’t just talk. Ask questions. Listen to his responses.
• Give accurate, age-appropriate information. Listen closely to the questions you’re being asked. Don’t get lost in details if your child asks a very general question. Consider his age and what’s appropriate for him to know, but also remember that kids today experience puberty earlier than ever. Kids are also exposed to sexual imagery and vocabulary more freely and at a much younger age.
• Don’t be afraid to say, "I don’t know." Admitting to your child that you don’t know the answer to his question could be the one thing that helps your relationship thrive. He needs to know you have limitations. Rather than letting this slow you down, use your lack of knowledge as an opportunity to research the issue in more depth together.
• Anticipate the next stage before it happens. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive. You can be an even stronger advocate for your child by preparing him for what’s ahead. Being proactive gives you the opportunity to discuss with your child appropriate responses to a variety of situations that might arise.
• Be aware of your actions. As you become comfortable talking with your child about sexual issues, be careful about bringing up discussions during what might be an embarrassing time for him (such as when his friends are around).
• Teach your child how to develop healthy relationships. As you talk to him about the importance of saving sex for marriage, it’s important that you provide him with alternatives on what to do with his emotions and physical desires. Learning how to develop strong friendships is a skill every child needs. Many young people grow up without learning about healthy friendships, so it’s no surprise that when they begin to seek a relationship with the opposite sex, they skip the friendship phase. Teach your child what healthy friendships look like. Also, encourage him to develop healthy relationships with adults other than yourself. These individuals can serve as great role models, resources for questions, and support for your child’s psychological and emotional growth.
• Integrate your family’s faith and values in the discussion. Never underestimate the power of faith when it comes to your child making a decision about becoming sexually active. According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (the largest study of adolescent behavior ever), students who reported having taken a pledge to remain a virgin were significantly more likely to delay their sexual debut. In another poll, teens cited religion as the second-strongest influence in their lives, just behind their parents.
• Love your child unconditionally. Remind him how much you love him – for who he is, not what he does. And if he blows it, don’t take his mistakes personally. Step up to the plate and help him through the crisis.
Used by permission of Fleming H. Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, copyright © 2005. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Publishing Group. http://www.BakerPublishingGroup.com.
Melissa R. Cox is a vice president with Cox Creative, Inc., a full-service marketing firm in Denver. The former director of marketing and public relations for the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, Melissa also serves as the editor of Focus on the Family's Physician magazine and as the managing editor of the best-selling Complete Book of Baby and Child Care. Melissa, her husband, Alan, and their two sons live in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.