It’s not easy, but it has to be done: talking openly with our children about sex can be one of the most important things we can do as parents, to insure our kids’ stability and happiness. NYC DADS’ very own Dr. G has coauthored a paper with Alida Bouris about how to talk to teens about sex for Latino families; the report is a part of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. If your kids are nearing teen age or are currently in their teens, then you must be ready to talk with them. Keeping a lid on it, or letting them learn about sex just from TV or their friends is not the answer—it’s up to their parents to help guide them through the confusing pressures and urges they are going through. It’s as essential to raising a child as telling a young one to look both ways before crossing the street. Here are ten ways to help pave the way to better communication, as recommended by Dr. G.
1. Be Open
Adolescents want their parents to talk to them in an open way. Remember, teens appreciate parental honesty and want to hear about your own experiences with dating and relationships. This type of parental openness may help your teen better understand your messages about acceptable sexual behavior and your wishes for them to stay safe. You will need to use good judgment in deciding what personal information to share. But talking about your own problems and experiences and about what things were like for you when you were a teen can go a long way.
2. Be the Expert
Teens who believe that their parents know a lot are more likely to listen to them. Even if you feel like you don’t have all the answers, take the time to listen and to respond. Being an expert on your teens’ life means talking with them and hearing their point of view. If your teen asks you questions that you don’t know the answers to, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Let your teen know that you’ll find the answer and get back to them. Depending on the question, you can try to find the answer together. When it comes to teen sexual behavior, many answers can be found online, from your healthcare provider, at school, in the library, at your church, or at a local community center.
3. Be Accessible
Parents have busy schedules, but it’s important to be available to your teen when they need to speak with you. If you can’t talk, schedule a time to talk as soon as possible. Teens know that their parents are busy and are willing to work with you to find a time that works. The important message to communicate is that talking with your teen about what’s going on in his or her life is your number one priority. While teens say that it’s hard when they can’t find time to talk with their parents, they also say that parents can still communicate how much they care. Some practical tips teens suggest include writing down a date and time on a calendar or on a piece of paper, or finding time to talk when doing things together, such as laundry, cooking, going to the park, going to church or taking a drive.
4. Be Trusting
Teens want to talk with their parents about sex but sometimes fear that their parents will assume that they are sexually active. Teens want their parents to trust them and to show that they love them no matter what. This doesn’t mean that you have to be overly permissive or hide your disapproval of your teen’s decisions. Talk with your teen about the topic of trust and what it means for each of you to trust each other. You can tell your teens that you trust that they will share their thoughts about the big issues in their life, including the decision to have sex. In turn, your teen can trust that you will be there for them to talk about the big issues in life.
5. Stay Calm
Some teens worry that their parents may react badly if they learn that they are having sex or are thinking about having sex. Teens say that staying calm is one thing parents can do to really improve conversations about sensitive topics like sex. Even if you feel strongly about something, try to remain calm as you talk with your teen. Avoid shouting. If things get too heated or emotional, suggest that you take a break until each of you has cooled down.
6. Ask Open-Ended Questions
People like to talk about themselves and their ideas. Ask your teen what he or she thinks, using open-ended questions (ones that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no”). Be curious about your teen’s ideas and opinions. You still have a lot to lean about your teen!
7. Listen To Your Teen
Let your teen speak without interruption; don’t finish sentences for them. You may feel like interrupting, but don’t. Let your teen finish his or her thoughts. Sometimes it helps to repeat what you think you have heard: “so what you’re saying is…” Then ask: “Did I get that right?” If you’re not sure about something, ask about it. But above all, avoid turning the talk into one big lecture. Show a willingness to learn.
8. Put Yourself in Your Teen’s Shoes
Teens like it if you try to see things from their point of view. Make an effort to put yourself in the place of your teen and think about things from his or her point of view. Let your teen know that you are trying to do this by saying simple things like, “I get you…” or “I had some of the same experiences when I was your age…” If you’re not sure what it was like for your teen, ask them to tell you more about their experience. This will show your teen that you care and are interested in their life.
9. Appeal to Common Goals
Your teen needs to be reminded that you are on his or her side. You often want the same things your teen does. Whenever possible, emphasize common goals and tell your teen you want what is best for him or her. Be supportive.
10. Show Your Interest
Make sure your teen feels you’re giving them your full attention. Even if you have to talk while doing something else, make eye contact with your teen when talking. Nod your head to indicate you understand what your teen is saying and say things that indicate you are paying attention and are interested.
These ten strategies were excerpted from the paper, “Parent-Adolescent Communication about Sex in Latino Families: A Guide for Practitioners,” by Dr. Vincent Guilamo-Ramos and Dr. Alida Bouris. The full report can be accessed here.