Lifestyle

Encourage your kids to talk about sex

By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

When deciding at what age to begin conversations with children about sexuality, some parents worry about damaging their child’s innocence.

I believe that if we discuss sexuality matter-of-factly and let our kids take the lead with questions, there is little chance of this. Some children, however, will never bring it up, even if parents are willing to talk about it.

That’s where a book like “Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character” by Dominic Cappello and Pepper Schwartz can be helpful. This book encourages parents to be clear about their values, then walks parents through 10 conversations to have with children ages 8 to 14. There are many resources to help you in this process. For more ideas, go to www.diligentjoy.com/resources.html.

Regarding media, parents have several options when dealing with blatant and unhealthy displays of sexuality. Parents can set limits according to their values regarding time and allowable programs watched on television. Many televisions come with the ability to block shows or ratings that are unacceptable to you. You can also set up computers to block sites, words, topics, etc.

Remember, though, that whatever you do, your child will probably be exposed at some time to something that you wish he hadn’t seen. Use these opportunities to keep the lines of communication open. Ask questions that bring in your values, such as “Do you think that was respectful behavior? Why or why not?” “Do you know kids who dress/act like that? What do you think about them?”

It’s important these questions are asked in a matter-of-fact way, and not in a way that implies there is only one acceptable answer. The goal is to keep communication open, build trust and increase the chance your child will come to you to talk about important issues.

According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, “teens consistently rank their parents as one of their primary sources of information on sexuality issues and studies have shown that adult-child communication can decrease sexual risk behaviors” (www.siecus.org).

Despite the debate about teaching teens information about contraception and barrier methods to promote safe sexual behavior, the research is clear that these teachings do not encourage teens to become sexually active. In fact, they keep them safer from both pregnancy and disease. In my experience with teaching sexuality education to teens, the more information they have, the more carefully they think about becoming sexually active.

One expert I heard recently summed up this issue very well. She said that some groups say the equivalent of “Don’t think about it — just don’t do it.” Media and popular culture sometimes give the message “Don’t think about it — just do it.”

What’s not only important for young people to do, but also what has been shown to be the most effective in keeping them healthy, is to think about it. So swallow those uncomfortable feelings, check out some good resources, and start talking to your kids about sex.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She also facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth and can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.

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