Lifestyle

Parents, let's talk about sex | Amy Johnson

Most people know October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, evidenced from the plethora of pink products available.

October has also been designated “Sex Ed Month of Action” by Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom, a national group devoted to bringing voices of faith together to advocate for comprehensive sexuality education. And, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has deemed October “Let’s Talk” Month.

So parents, let’s talk. It’s never too early or too late to begin and continue conversations about sexuality, dating and relationships with your child or teen. Teens consistently identify their parents as those with the most influence on their decisions about dating and relationships. That means you need to talk about what your ideals, values and expectations are, and you need to walk your talk. Modeling being a partner in a respectful relationship with good communication goes a long way. If your relationship is not healthy, get help. If you are dating, make sure your standards are up to the ones you expect for your son or daughter.

Speaking of relationships, how do you or your child decide if someone is relationship worthy? Do you have standards other than physical attraction? If sex is the price for a relationship, it’s too high, and your child (or you) should look elsewhere. Think of relationships as a ladder, built on friendship, respect, honesty, shared interests and trust. If those things are missing, the ladder may not be strong enough to hold up the relationship.

Talk to your child about the “Success Sequence” (www.thenationalcampaign.org). Young people who finish high school and/or college, who wait until they are in their twenties to marry, and who wait to have children until after they are married, have a much higher chance of meeting their goals than those who don’t. Identifying this sequence for success with your children can help them think critically about relationships and long-term goals.

When you discuss these topics with your teen, make sure it is a conversation, not a lecture. When you tell them what you want for them, also tell them why. When you discuss safety, bring up emotional safety as well as physical safety. The emotional price for becoming sexually active is higher than most teens expect. Six out of 10 sexually experienced teens express that they wish they would have waited. Make sure your child knows that even if they have said “yes” to someone or something, they are in charge, and they can say “no” at any time.

A word about older partners: Research shows a significantly higher percentage of teens are sexually experienced when they have a “serious boyfriend or girlfriend” who is two or more years older than they are, as compared with one who is no more than one year older. Age does make a difference in adolescent relationships. With respect, you can point out your concerns to a son or daughter who is considering dating someone much older.

Finally, remember that your kids are going to learn about sex, relationships and dating. They are more empowered to resist peer pressure if they have accurate, complete information from a trusted parent before they encounter myths and incomplete information from peers. Talk to your child or teen.

Here’s a list of possible discussion topics:

• For younger children: Correct names for body parts. Play a game, read a story, sing a song. Where babies come from — how they are created and how they are born.

• School-aged children: Body changes that happen with puberty, including menstruation, erections, hair growth, etc. More detailed discussions about intercourse and pregnancy (many books can help) Begin a discussion about sexual orientation, and potentially knowing people with two moms or two dads.

• Pre-teens: Make sure your child has basic knowledge about masturbation, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, contraception and sexual minorities (homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender). Discuss relationships and values, in addition to reproduction and diseases. This is a good time to discuss/reinforce delaying first intercourse. Talk about the success sequence and the relationship ladder.

• Teens: Continue discussions about values, relationships and long-term goals. Discuss potential issues with older partners. Have a frank discussion about date/acquaintance rape, and make sure your teen has basic safety information. Remember to have a conversation, not a lecture.

Resources

• American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines: www.aap.org/healthtopics/sexuality.cfm

• Tips for Talking from The National Campaign: www.thenationalcampaign.org/parents/relationships.aspx

• Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom: www.syrf.org

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