Let’s talk about sex
Tips on how to talk to your child about sex, intimacy and relationships
For many parents, just the idea of talking about sex or intimacy with their children is frightening. But no topic is more important to talk about given the information available to your kids through peers, media and the internet.
The internet in particular exposes kids to content that might be beyond their understanding developmentally and includes scenarios that are unhealthy and detrimental to a child’s understanding or view of intimate relationships.
Our kids are constantly being inundated with content regarding sex — and middle school, high school and college campuses are seeing the effects. There are higher rates of alcohol consumption and mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, as well as higher rates of social isolation for kids across all socio-economic spectrums.
Conversations are a must for every parent with a teenager or soon-to-be teenager. They can strengthen the bond between parent and child throughout adolescence and adulthood. To help facilitate these conversations, here are a few must do’s:
• Normalize conversations around body image, sex and gender roles—encourage your children to talk to you about what they heard from their friends so you can correct misinformation.
• Encourage your children to talk about what they see on TV and social media. These are teachable moments and allow for in-depth conversations around what they are exposed to and what they think of it.
• Let your child talk about the “school drama” without instant criticism, advice or correction. One of the worst things parents can do when kids begin to talk about their experiences is to tell them what to do, how to do it, why they are wrong or minimize their experience. Kids are experiencing these scenarios for the first time and they need to be involved in solving the problem to gain skills for their future.
• Talk about your morals and values with your kids. Let them know what your expectations are as the parent. Let them know they can talk to you when dilemmas arise.
• Educate! Whether you talk to your kids about abstinence or safe sex, educate them on all aspects of a safe, healthy intimate experience. We do not want them to feel ashamed about sex and intimacy; we want them to feel empowered about their choices. When they do choose to be involved in an intimate relationship, we want them to be engaged in a healthy and positive one.
• Talk about societal gender roles. Unfortunately, there is still a social hierarchy regarding boys who engage in sexual relationships versus girls who engage in sexual relationships. Inform your children of these realities and make it OK for them to talk about it.
• Talk about acceptance and tolerance. Every adolescent is on his or her own journey and needs to feel free to make their own choices regardless of what their peers say.
• Finally, listen when they talk. Parents are often pained when their pre-teen or teen stops talking to them. If parents stop to listen without judgment or minimizing words when their child does talk, kids will continue to open the door. Kids do not want to be told, “It is just puppy love” or “You are too young to have such intense feelings." They want their parents to guide them as they explore their feelings. Kids that come to their own conclusions bounce back quicker and become more resilient.
Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.