Information for Parents
You must be there for them. If your child comes to you with questions, do your best to help them – no
matter how uncomfortable it may make you feel. They have reached out to you because they trust you & feel you can help. If you don’t help them, they may get bad information from elsewhere. Learn to be an Approachable Adult.
An Approachable Adult is someone who is welcoming and non-judgmental, who listens and provides honest and factual answers, and who respects confidentiality. Respond to questions calmly and with respect. Remind them that you love them and care about them no matter what happens or what they tell you. Above all, an Approachable Adult has a sense of humour, remembering to laugh with, not at.
Preparing in advance
If the topic of sexuality has not come up yet, take the time to get yourself ready.
Determine your own values and what kind of information you are comfortable talking about. Ask yourself: What are the main messages I want to communicate? How do I feel about issues of sexuality? If your family is faith-based, reconciling some spiritual or religious beliefs with sexual health information can be challenging and may require some deep reflection.
Take inventory of your knowledge. What and how did you first learn about sexuality and sexual health when you were young? What worked for you? What did not? While your child’s experience will be their own, it can be helpful to reflect on your own learning. If there are topics you feel you don’t know enough about, explore the resources and links on this page; you will find evidence-informed, non-judgmental facts about likely any question you have.
Do not assume that because your child(ren) has not approached you with questions about sexuality does not mean that they are not interested or are sexually inactive. You are your child’s most important sex educator, even if you say nothing at all. If you feel awkward bringing the subject up (very understandable), then try opening the discussion by referring to an advertisement or news item, a blog article or Facebook post, and see where the conversation goes. Demonstrate the fundamentals of being an Approachable Adult and assure your child that you are there for them. In the car is a great place, as there is no intense face-to-face interaction, you are both stuck there anyway, and you will have to remain calm to avoid an accident.
Encourage your child(ren)s self-confidence and decision-making skills. Give youth the chance to make decisions for themselves in all areas of their lives so that they have experience to build on when they make decisions surrounding sexual readiness. Competency and self-awareness are important in all areas of life, and are extremely important here.
Foster positive feelings about sexuality. Do not use scare tactics; rather give them the true facts. Encourage young people to be comfortable with their own sexuality: we are sexual beings from the day we are born.
Encourage questions. Use encouraging remarks such as: “This is a great question, thank you for asking me.” “How are you feeling about this right now?” “What do you think of…?” I’m truly happy that you’ve asked me this question.”
Be open to learning from your kids. They may know more about a particular topic than you do, and their information may be evidence-based, fair, and non-judgmental. Ask them where they got their information and see what you gaps you can fill in your own knowledge. If it turns out their information is incomplete, inaccurate or outright false, follow the links provided below to get the right answers.
When your child asks a question that you weren’t ready for.
If your child has sprung a question or concern on you when you were ill-prepared and you feel you handled it badly, go to your child and apologize for your reaction, assure than that you are there for them, and how about now/tonight/tomorrow to talk about it. Make time for them; do not rush them or yourself when it comes to sexual empowerment and health. Then, when the timing is better, use these helpful hints to guide your conversation:
Be patient. Sexuality is a difficult subject for anyone to talk about and it might take someone a very long time to say what he or she needs to say. Awkward as it may feel, don’t jump in and finish sentences or speed them up. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you are embarrassed or uncomfortable with the topic. Learn together.
Listen, and ask them what they want to know. It may seem obvious, but really listen to what they say or ask. It may be something much deeper than what it appears to be or it may be something very innocent, needing a short yes/no answer.
There is no such thing as normal and abnormal, only common and uncommon. Assure them that they are normal. Children, youth and even adults are often terrified that they are the only ones who feel/act/experience awkwardness and difficulties. Reassure them that they are not alone. Point out that the range of ‘normal’ is vast, and while they may be experiencing or thinking of something that is less common, it is still normal.
Welcome differences. Your child is a unique individual. Your job is to guide them to be healthy individuals by encouraging them to think of the consequences of their actions and make decisions that are good for them. Confront any negative feelings you have about diversity and question them. It is a great chance for you to grow as a person, too.
Never assume that you know how your child is feeling. We often tend to assume that we know how others feel, but this will often lead to miscommunication. Your child’s feelings are their own and they are valid, even when they differ from yours, so treat their emotions with respect.
Don’t be afraid to set limits. When setting limits, they need to be reasonable for the child’s age. Help them understand what appropriate and inappropriate behaviours are.
Children and youth get conflicting and confusing messages about sexuality and health from all around them. They may turn to you for clarification and honesty about issues and answers to questions they have. If your child asks a question that you do not know the answer to, say so, and then take the opportunity to find out the answer together. Check out the books and websites in the resources and links section below and learn together.
Under each Busted section, I want to include links to supportive studies. Would it be better to include relevant articles here, or to have a general links link?
Myth: Talking to kids about sex will make them want to have sex sooner.
Busted! No parent wants to encourage their children to experiment with sexual activities early. Thankfully, studies have shown that when parents talk with their children about sexuality – providing accurate information and sharing their values -their children are more likely to delay sexual experimentation and use protection when they do have sex.
Our conversations with our children about sexuality should go beyond how to take care of one’s body, how to abstain from sex, and how to use protection. They should also include:
- The importance of feeling good about oneself.
- How to have healthy, respectful relationships.
- Clear messages from you about your values and expectations about sexual decisions.
With this information, our children are better prepared to resist peer and media pressure and to make healthy decisions.
Myth: Children do not want to talk to their parents about sexuality.
Busted! Young people do want to talk to their parents about sexuality; many just fear their parents’ reaction. (Remember back to when you were in their shoes.) As a parent, you can help your children to feel comfortable talking to you about sexuality by answering their questions openly and honestly. Use a calm and encouraging tone of voice, be patient, and be willing to listen, even if you are shocked by what they say.
Myth: Teens who ask their parents questions about sex are probably sexually active.
Busted! Maybe, but maybe not. Many young people ask questions about sex because they are curious and want to know their parents’ views and values. We know that messages about sex are everywhere: advertisements, television, movies, videos, internet, and music. Often the messages that kids receive from the media and other sources are unrealistic, unhealthy, and/or confusing. You very likely experience a value clash with many images and ideas your child is exposed to, no matter what your values are.
So, when your child asks you a question about sex, remember to stay calm and resist making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Many youth say that the biggest barrier to talking to their parents about sex is that they think their parents will assume that they are sexually active and freak out. Don’t make that mistake.
Kids These Days!
I would like to link to articles and studies that help dispel fears about the various myths about sexuality and youth, though I’m not sure how to keep links active. Should I include a list of sites to visit, like a resource list, or should I leave that to the links in the resources section?
It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking “Young people now are worse off/more promiscuous/in greater danger/less informed/too informed than I was when I was young.” It is easy to be afraid for your kids with some of the warnings issuing from experts with varying degrees of validity in the media.
There is both good news and bad news (though which stories are good or bad may depend on your personal convictions) when it comes to teens and sexuality in the new millennium and beyond. The truth is that even with camera phones, the internet, hyper-sexualized advertising and so on, young people today are not in a worse position as a result of technological or social changes. Looking at so-called trends in teen sexual behavior with a critical eye often reveals that the alarming headlines are not indicative of an actual public health crisis. Examples include “rainbow parties” (urban myth), colour-coded gel bracelets that when snapped off, act as a type of sex coupon (immature adolescent fantasy), or that ‘sexting’ is a gateway to risky sexual behavior (sexting has been shown to be a symptom of ongoing high-risk activity, not the cause).
Be informed, not afraid. If you hear about something terrifying to you, learn more about it. Get information that has reliable data to back it up. Sometimes the reliable data is still being worked on – good science takes time – and then it’s best to use your judgment and talk to your child about the issue. Conversations about sensationalized topics can be a great way to open dialogue, and maybe have a good rant or laugh. Look to the online resources offered on this page as places to go to get truthful, non-inflammatory information about youth sexuality.
You can also visit the External Resources page for more helpful resources.
- Bain, Dr. Jerald. So Your Child is Gay. Harper Collins Publishers Ltd., Toronto, 2000.
- Bartle, Nathalie & Susan Lieverman. Venus in Blue Jeans: Why Mother & Daughters Need to Talk About Sex. Dell Publishing, New York, 1998.
- Bell, Ruth. Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships.
- Gordon, Sol & Judith Gordon. Raising a Child Responsibly in a Sexually Permissive World. Adams Media Corporation, US, 2000.
- Gravelle, Karen & Jennifer Gravelle. The Period Book: Everything You Don’t Want to Ask (but need to know). Walker and Company, New York, 1996.
- Gravelle, Karen with Nick & Chava Castro. What’s Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask. Walker and Company, New York, 1998.
- Haffner, Debra W. From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children. Newmarket Press, 2000.
- Harris, Robie H. Changing Bodies, Growing up, Sex & Sexual Health: It’s Perfectly Normal. Candlewick Press, Massachusetts, 1996.
- Kivel, Paul. Boys Will Be Men: Raising our sons for Courage, Caring and Community. New Society Publishers, B.C., 1999.
- Stinson, Kathy. The Bare Naked Book. Annick Press Ltd., Toronto, 1997.