How to Talk with Your Teen: Sex Education and Other Tough Topics
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Sexual education is a touchy topic for most families. Bringing up sex with your teen can bring up irritability, embarrassment or anxiety for them – and for you, as a parent! Is it difficult to get a positive conversation started with your teen? Do your attempts to talk often turn into mini-lectures?
Don’t blame yourself! One-sided “talks” are tricky to avoid, especially with topics like sexual education, which can easily trigger feelings of judgement or fear.
If you tend to argue with your teen, struggle to get a straight answer from them, or rarely get more than “I don’t know,” it’s time to try some new approaches to communication.
You’re probably concerned about them starting to make reckless choices now that they may have more freedom (and rightly so). However, this concern can make it even more difficult to approach the conversation in a way that promotes healthy decision making for your teen.
Try this approach.
How to talk with your teen about sex education and other tough topics:
1 Identify obstacles
What gets in the way when you try to talk to your teen? Do your best to name it.
One of the most common obstacles that parents face is their own fear or discomfort about topics like sex education, drug use, or any rule or boundary.
A parent’s own lack of clarity between rules, suggestions, consequences, and support can be confusing for teens. For example, a parent might punish their child for something as if it is bad behavior to be ashamed of, rather than understanding a teen’s feelings about it first. Their teen may already feel ashamed because of regret or because they felt pressured in some way within the situation either by the other person, friends or just overall assumptions about sexuality.
Also, some parents may not consider how it impacts their teen’s self-esteem and stress level. Just like there are fears that you may have, your teen likely has fears that you could potentially put to rest by acknowledging them, educating your teen, and offering emotional support.
Assumptions are often to blame if communication is difficult unproductive. For example, you may assume your child is being dishonest or secretive, but your teen may simply not feel that they have the words to convey what they want to, or they themselves feel anxious about what and how to share with you.
Control and Power Struggles
Another impediment is a parent trying to control your teen’s opinions. It actually makes it far less likely that you will have a positive influence on your teen’s own opinion if you expect them to adopt your own. This comes off as unsupportive and your teen may feel unsafe communicating a different perspective.
Learn about the other common obstacles (and how to avoid them) by joining me for my free interview: How to Talk to Teens About Sex Exclusive Interview
2 Start the sex education conversation in a direct and positive way
There will never be the perfect time to talk about sex with your teen. Take time to be aware of what your fears and assumptions are about sex education. If you are uncomfortable imagining your growing teen as a sexual person, you need to work on letting that go. It is normal to feel this way, but if you’re afraid of your teen’s sexuality, they will feel shame. They may not choose to be sexually active, but it they need to be able to think about it, talk about it, and feel proud of whatever it is that they chose to do or not do.
Learn more about ways to start the conversation by joining me for my free interview: How to Talk to Teens About Sex Exclusive Interview
3 Help develop your teen’s decision-making skills
Teach your teen to decide for themselves, not just do as you say because you say so. Always ask them what they think about a situation, any situation, even if it doesn’t involve sex education. It is best to not be searching for a specific answer. Help them learn from their mistakes not by lecturing or rescuing them, but talking them through helping themselves.
Your teen will definitely be in many situations where they are pressured to do something sexual, directly or indirectly. While you may want them to be thinking “My mom or dad would get mad at me,” what you need them to be thinking is “Does this feel right to me? Do I feel safe? Do I feel uncomfortable?”
Does your teenager seem to be the most adventurous in their group? Be cautious of what you say. Pointing out how they don’t want to look like a “player” or a “slut” is not helpful. This will only make them feel misunderstood and criticized by you. They may feels as if you are looking for the worst in them or taking the worst interpretation of how they look or behave.
Learn more about how to support your teen’s development and decision-making abilities during this interview: How to Talk to Teens About Sex Exclusive Interview
4 Build your teen’s self-esteem
Foster healthy self-esteem by encouraging the things that you already see and want to see more of. Show your pride in their abilities, intelligence, independence, sensitivity, genuineness – whatever quality you can honestly identify in your teen. If those things are nurtured, they won’t turn to unhealthy attention-seeking behavior.
If they do seem to be drawn to seek out reckless behavior, do not try to diminish that. Instead, still try to help them channel that into positive areas. A tendency toward reckless behavior can be a completely normal part of growing up and finding yourself. However, it can also be a symptom of emotional distress. Your teen may be trying to express anger, depression, or a sense of powerlessness in life.
Don’t punish reckless behavior, it will only push your teen away. Reckless behavior has natural consequences (less trust from you and friends or consequences at school). Rather than wasting energy trying to make them feel worse, help them find healthy ways to express themselves through therapy, creative activities, and quality time with people that care about them – be it family, friends, or mentors.
Don’t hesitate to get your teen help if you feel that their behavior is harming themselves or others. Learn more about how to help your teen have a healthy, safe sex education from the information in this free event for parents! Click here: How to Talk to Teens About Sex Exclusive Interview