Discussing sexuality with your teen

Effective parents take the time to do a lot of talking with their children;and that includes talking about sex. There is perhaps no subject that's more uncomfortable to discuss with children than sex.

Louise Tracy, M.S., middle school counselor and mother of six, has written sensitively on this subject in her book, Grounded for Life?! 

Tracy says that many parents are reluctant to discuss sexuality with their teenagers because they feel this is a behavior that should be reserved for adulthood. She points out that, regardless of one's own values, our children are growing up in a culture where a large portion of the general population accepts sexual intercourse as a natural and healthy part of relationships regardless of marital status.

Our teens will be affected by the general consensus of our society, whether we like it or not. Tracy quotes studies that show adolescents do not complain about receiving too much sexual information from their parents, only too little. They still need and want caring participation in their ongoing sexual growth, but they need it before we think they're ready to need it. Many teens (and pre-teens) avoid talking with their parents about sexual issues not so much because they don't care about our opinions or want help from us, but because they're convinced we'll be shocked.

Tools: Tracy offers wise counsel on communicating with  your child on the topic of sexuality both in general and in your child's  life.  

Start earlier than you think you need to.  Tracy recommends initiating conversations on sexual issues in your child's pre-teen years (10-12). If your child is accustomed to discussing these things with you in a calm, rational way, he or she is more likely to trust you to be calm and helpful in later years when the subject may be personal.

Bring up a specific topic for family discussion.  You can use information from sex ed classes at school or articles in magazines to initiate such discussions. For example, "I read in the note from your health teacher that you were studying sexually transmitted diseases this month. How much do kids your age really know about this?"  Discussing issues that aren't particularly personal can be an easier way to initiate discussions about sexuality.

Tracy offers the following topics for discussion: sexual curiosity, desire, safety from sexual assault, sexually-transmitted diseases, pregnancy, being in love, responsibilities and consequences of intimate relationships, sexual roles, and sexual activity at school, work, or home.

Communicate your values, but air them generally, not in a targeted way.  A comment like "I think it's safer for single people to abstain because then they don't have to worry about diseases or unexpected pregnancies which complicate their lives and put innocent babies at risk." This is easier to hear than "Don't you fool around."

Be genuinely interested in your teen's position, feelings, and beliefs, not doggedly focused on your own. Your views don't do your teen any good if she ignores your comments. Tracy recommends letting your teen express herself first, expressing your own thoughts only at the end. Do a lot of listening and paraphrasing.  Resist debating or arguing with her. Older adolescents quickly tune out or leave when a parent begins telling them what's right or wrong or issues orders.

Offer information in the form of options, choices and consequences. Our children are in charge of their lives and choices.  The more reliable information they have on options and the possible consequences of their choices, the better prepared they will be to make healthy chioces.

You'll find more practical tips you can use right now in Grounded for Life?! Stop Blowing Your Fuse and Start Communicating with Your Teenager   by Louise Felton Tracy, M.S.