Parenting Sexuality Transparency

Awkward Questions, Honest Answers

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:

  1. Don’t shame your child/teen for asking these questions.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Interesting reads:

Parents, Adolescents, and the Subject of Sex

Your Teen is Having Sex, Don’t Panic (necessarily)

The Horror Whose Name Can’t Be Spoken — Teen Sex

The Upside to Boy-Girl Friendships

Parenting Sexuality

New Study, Old Issues

Image via Wikipedia

Recent data from a new government report documenting the welfare of children shows a drop in teen births going from “21.7 births per 1000 girls in 2008 to 20.1 per 1000 in 2009.” Other aspects of the report weren’t as positive: the number of eighth-graders who’ve used illicit drugs has risen; more children are living in poverty; fewer children are likely to live with at least one parent who is working full time. The report was compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a “working group of 22 federal agencies that collect, analyze, and convey data on issues pertaining to children birth to 18 and their families.” The study is notably multidimensional, as it covers everything from teen pregnancy and drug use, to obesity, math scores, and poverty.

Still, this study doesn’t provide us with any answers in terms of how to continue to encourage the decline in teen births, or even how to decrease the rising numbers of illicit drug use. It is, however, a great marker for us to refer to as we continue on our parenting journey.  The crux of the matter is we still need to broach the thorny subject of sex, pregnancy, drugs, et cetera, with our kids. We need to talk about the uncomfortable issues before the theory of pregnancy or drug addiction becomes reality.
Talking about the birds and the bees includes more than just the covering the technical side of how babies are made. As much as we may be concerned about the outcome of unfettered sexual activity, there are still runaway emotions occurring simply because of a teen’s developmental status. Fortunately (and unfortunately), we live in a time where conversation triggers are everywhere: films like Juno, or Saved, and television shows like 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom are certainly fodder for beginning this conversation. Just talk about it; take away the mystery. When that’s gone, the intrigue just may begin to wane as well. Think about it: When you were a kid, and someone implicitly told you not to do something or touch something, was your curiosity piqued? I know mine was.

This conversation is important and ongoing! If we begin to broach the subjectt early on and with as much candor as is age appropriate, we gain the potentiality for honest communication with our kids. Knowing that you can trust your parents and talk to them about the “big” stuff is important—in essence, try to be the one your kids come to rather than the one they hide things from! At the end of the day, it’s far better if this information comes from us as parents than the misanthropic, older kid your child might admire!

Some helpful links to refer to:

New Govt Report On Child Welfare Presents Mixed Picture

Report: Teen Births Drop, Middle-School Drug Use Up

LA Times

How to Talk to Your Children About Sex