Today while 76 % of teens report it would be easier for them to delay sexual activity if they had more open conversations with their parents about sex (1), only 43% of parents say they feel comfortable talking to their kids about sexual health topics (2). That's a gap we want to fill.
When adults are an intentionally open, honest, and knowledgeable source of support for their children about sexuality, we call that being an "askable adult". But we know this doesn't come naturally to everyone--it takes effort!
Check out the tips below from our resident parent-child communication expert, Vanessa Kellam (right), to establish yourself as an askable adult for the youth in your life.
And stayed tuned this fall as we unveil our revamped website, lets-talk.how, just for parents, encouraging family communication around sexuality, relationships and more!
Tip #1: Self-Assess
Before starting a conversation with our child(ren), we must first look inward. All of us have a different relationship to our sexuality, and some of us may have significant baggage. Having an awareness of the emotions surrounding our own sexual development and how they may influence our interactions with our children is a critical first step. Whether our prior experiences have been positive, negative or somewhere in between, before we begin a conversation with our children we must acknowledge where we are and what work we still need to do. The process of identifying and coming to terms with these emotions will be different for each person; this may mean journaling, seeking out a support group, talking with a licensed therapist, or finding a creative outlet. But, ultimately, this is a part of a larger journey toward self-acceptance.
Tip #2: Have Empathy
Sometimes kids can ask questions at the most unexpected and least opportune times (like that time in the middle of Mother's Day brunch?!). When this happens, try to put yourself in their shoes and ask, "why is my child asking this question?", "what have they been experiencing recently?", "Could they be in physical or emotional pain?". Considering their emotional state can provide you insights into their current experience. This empathy can aid parents in addressing questions in a more sensitive and accurate way.
Tip #3: Have An Ongoing Dialogue
While you may feel uncomfortable or inexperienced having these conversations, that's okay! The critical part is to consistently find time to talk with your child, often in small doses. In doing this, their needs are prioritized, and they will take note! Also, when we identify and discuss any discomfort we feel in talking about certain topics, we show our vulnerability, which can bring us even closer with our kids. Ultimately, the goal is to convey that we are an unwavering resource as our kids move through adolescence.
Tip #4: Watch your Nonverbal Cues
What we don't say can be as impactful as what we do say. Notice how you react when your child asks you a question. Does your body tense up? Do you redirect the conversation? Do you laugh it off? These can be signs of your personal discomfort with a specific topic. Once you have identified your reactions, you can change those habits and address your child's questions in a more intentional (and perhaps accurate) way.
Tip #5: Lecture Less & Listen More
Carving out time to listen with intention to your child can be one of the most valuable things we do as parents. Try a 1:3 ratio of parent talking to child talking, so the child drives the conversation and the parent absorbs the information. Try leveraging your everyday routine: chat on your drive home from school, while watching Netflix, or right before bed. This way, you can integrate brief, but consistent conversations that are more comfortable for everyone.
Tip #6: It's Okay to Say "I Don't Know"
No one holds all of the answers! Instead of answering on the fly and risk giving an answer you may later regret, tell your child "I'll get back to you" or "I need to think about that." Then, do your research (see our resources page for parents as a place to start). When you re-engage with your child with a thoughtful, well researched answer you will feel more confident in giving them accurate information and show your child that learning is a life-long practice.
Tip #7: Don't Forget!
Youth value your guidance as a trusted adult in their lives! Here are some simple, but important takeaways:
Talk with your child early and often in an honest yet age appropriate way.
Short, consistent check-ins are more effective than one lengthy "talk."
Continual communication helps parents and kids stay emotionally connected.
Sexual development starts the day children are born; the way we communicate about it can impact the rest of their lives.
Get even moretips for talking with your kids on Health Connected's website.
Sources: 1. National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, National Poll 2013 2. Let's Talk: Are Parents Tackling Crucial Conversations about Sex? National Poll, 2011