Teen sexuality is one of those subjects that inherently becomes the bane of a parent’s life. For some reason, talking about sex and sexuality is embarrassing for many, particularly when it comes to talking to their kids. Just like kids/teens can’t imagine their parents “doing it,” neither can we (parents) imagine our babies “doing it” either.
I’ve written before about the need for transparency in parenting, but those blogs were focused more on our sordid pasts, our own experiential behaviors with drugs and alcohol, and ultimately what led us to our recovery. I feel the same way about teens and sexuality. They are, by nature, sexual beings. Mixed with the inherent risk-taking behavior found in adolescence, the need for autonomy, and the biological reality that they are not cognitively developed enough to make rational decisions, what we have is a cauldron of disaster waiting to happen. We need to be able to talk about it—openly. The reality is, most teens are having sex and most parents would rather eschew reality.
Until recently, my thoughts on this were rather esoteric in the sense that I had no direct experience. Just opinions. But then my son came to me (he’s 10) and said, “Mom, why do penises enlargen?” I’m not going to lie: I had a moment of internal panic, but then I realized this was one of those opportunities to put my thoughts, beliefs and words into action. So I answered him: truthfully. Yes, Pandora’s Box was blasted wide open, but at the same time, it made space for honesty and trust. I am honored that at 10, my son feels emotionally safe enough to broach the tough questions with me, his mom, and not leave the gathering of this information up to schoolyard antics. Granted, it’s only the beginning, but it’s something. I soon discovered this open attitude of mine wasn’t particularly common. In fact, it was met with some shock and adamant admissions of embarrassment. This was disheartening to me. Honestly, if we want our kids to behave responsibly, it’s best we arm them with accurate information, and provide them with the tools necessary to make positive choices.
So, when the time comes, and your kids start the incessant line of awkward questioning, here are a couple of useful tips that have worked for me:
- Don’t shame your child/teen for asking these questions.
- Stay age appropriate. Just because the question seems advanced doesn’t mean the one asking is ready to hear the nitty gritty. Answer honestly, but appropriate to the cognitive development of your child.
- Get a book! There are some good ones out there that will provide answers to most of these questions and open a space for discussion.
- Teach media literacy.
Certainly, answering honestly in the early years is ideal, but if we set a standard with our kids and allow them to see that we will tell them the truth and create a safe space for them to be themselves, we are ahead of the game.
This is an ongoing conversation, one that will evolve and change as time goes on. Remember: every moment is a teachable moment.