March is National Talk to Your Teen about Sex Month. I’m a fan of talking about it every day but hey, since there’s an actual month named for talking to your teen about sex, far be it for us as a nation to waste it!
Yes, I want you to talk to your teen about sex. Talk about it this month and then keep talking about it.
Here’s how you may envision this conversation going with your teen:
You: “Hey did you know March is ‘National Talk to Your Teen about Sex’ month?”
Teen: “Did you know that ain’t happening cause the last person I want to discuss sex with is you?” (as your teen flees the room).
Ok, it probably won’t happen like that, but trust me, they are feeling just as awkward as you are about this conversation, but you have to persevere because:
- Teens report their parents as the biggest influence when it comes time to making decisions about sex. Parents have double the influence over friends, the next closest influence.
- Good conversations now can help them delay sexual intercourse, have fewer partners and they will be more apt to use condoms and other forms of birth control when the time comes.
- Sharing values now and talking about sensitive topics develops trust and lays the ground work right for making you an “approachable “parent when other issues come up.
Thinking back, how did you learn about sex? Was it from your parents or friends? Did you have all the correct information? Did you know where to get it? Maybe you had one quick “birds and the bees talk” or maybe you were fortunate and it was a lifelong conversation that included communication, guidance, and factual information. I’m not suggesting parents give the same birds and bees talk over and over, but rather, that they are able to convey their thoughts and values around sexuality for a lifetime. An easy way to do this is by using teachable moments whenever they pop up.
A teachable moment is the moment that someone is made aware of something. That moment conveys values and exploration versus turning the moment into a lesson. I like using media examples as my “moment.” In my experience, teens are more often able to make connections to something when the spotlight isn’t on them.
Let’s use Snooki, from The Jersey Shore to illustrate a teachable moment. She’s pregnant. Did you know that? Who cares if Snooki is pregnant? Well… you should. Lots of teachable moments right there. Use this as a jumping board for a host of conversations.
What are your feelings on premarital pregnancy, birth control and sexually transmitted infections? What does “reality TV” teach teens about respect and self esteem? Is there typically gender bias? How are females and males treated? Could someone regret or be embarrassed by actions played out to 8 million viewers? Will their new child be proud? Here’s the perfect opportunity to add in conversations about the Internet (YouTube, Facebook, etc.) as something that is public and permanent. Even if a video or post is deleted, it may have been downloaded by someone, living on forever.
Snooki cheated on her boyfriend a few times during their yearlong courtship. Some people question if the baby is even his child. You can discuss healthy relationships, cheating, trust, and maybe even paternity tests. Snooki found out she was pregnant right after New Year’s Eve - heavy drinking that night concerned her. Snooki is over 21; however, you can still use this as a segway to discuss underage drinking, poor choices and your values surrounding that. It may sound like I’m judging Snooks, but I’m not trying to. (Well, maybe a little, I can’t believe she’s going to be someone’s mother, the girl has difficulty walking!)
I love The Jersey Shore for many reasons, the main one being that young adults are watching this train wreck and emulating it. What better way to connect with teens than at their level? Use The Jersey Shore and other shows teens are watching, to pull out teachable moments and have a conversation.
Also try books and movies - in the hugely popular Twilight series Edward is popping in and out of Bella’s bedroom unannounced and without obtaining her consent. Their relationship is dangerous. It can even kill Bella, yet she gives up her human life for him. Yes, relationships are give and take and sacrifices are made in the name of love, so let’s have a dialogue about this.
Watching Glee? Kurt, Santana and Dave Karofsky are dealing with what it’s like to be a gay teen in high school. While Kurt and Santana have supportive parents, Dave’s mother told him he has a disease that can be cured. This season, after Karofsky’s football teammates discovered he was gay they teased him and vandalized his locker with homophobic slurs. He attempted suicide as a result. What power do our words and actions have? How can teens be a good friend when someone is suffering? Does anyone choose to be straight or where they just born that? Why would it be any different with being born gay? What resources are available when it all appears lost? Again, even if you have never watched Glee, gay teen suicide is rising at an alarming rate and being playing out in high schools all across the nation.
Ready, Set, Talk.
Without being judgmental and skewing their response, ask your teen what they think about Snooki, Bella, the Glee cast, or any other media character you choose. Use your teachable moment to prompt them to share their thoughts and values. Really listen to what they have to say, and don’t assume if they have questions about sex and birth control, they are having sex.
In our sex-soaked culture, it’s everywhere. There is no hiding from it and there is plenty of misinformation out there. After you have heard their responses, use this opportunity to share yours. Correct mistakes you’ve heard and convey (and repeat!) your family values. It’s never too late to start the conversation and it’s incredibly powerful in affecting the choices your child will make in the future.
And there you are, talking about sex. See? That wasn’t too hard, was it?
Partners in Sex Education