Talking to our kids about their sexual health can be tricky or even uncomfortable at times. That’s okay – perfectly normal; especially as we are talking about penises and vaginas, or birth control, or STI’s. But we must talk about that stuff with them, just as we talk to them about our other body systems and how to care for those “parts” as well. Remember, we were the ones who taught them how to wipe their butt. You can’t get much more personal than that!
But talking about sexual health encompasses more than the biology of sex. It also involves emotional, psychological, and decision-making processes as well.
Last week while attending a conference in Baltimore, I had the honor and privilege of listening to Dr. Victor Strecher speak. He is a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Sadly, he suffered the loss of one of his daughters four years ago. He used that grief, along with his expertise, to encourage and support others in their life journey – their purpose.
It was an engaging and inspiring talk encouraging individuals to define their purpose. No, I don’t mean waking up and realizing that you have four loads of laundry to catch up on – though that certainly CAN be a purpose for your day. But more like, what is your AUTHENTIC purpose. According to Dr. Strecher, this purpose gives you a reason to get up in the morning; it gives you energy in your life. I am certain there are many days you wonder just exactly WHAT you are accomplishing sometimes – I’ve been down that road as well. But you do have a purpose. Take some time to contemplate the things in your life that you feel passionate about…that excite you.
And while you are doing your pondering, how about approaching the young people in your life? Dr. Strecher believes that having a purpose can serve as potential protection against ill health and toxic addictions. Because my focus is on sexual health for young people, it’s my thought (totally unscientifically proven, but still…) that if your child feels like they have a reason to get up in the morning and be a part of the world – a reason to look ahead – they are more likely to make well thought-out choices when it comes to their sexual health. After all, they want to make it to adulthood to fulfill their purpose, too.
So I suggest to you, when you both have time, ask your child:
- Where do you see yourself in 2 years, 4 years, and beyond?
- At this point in your life, what do you feel is your purpose?
- What excites you in life? (Girls in bikini’s don’t count.)
- What steps will you take over the years to fulfill your life’s purpose? (And yes, a purpose may morph – they are still trying to figure “life” out.)
Your child may say something like, “Moooommmmmm. (or Daaaaaaaaddddddd.) I don’t knooooowwwwww.” They may throw in a “Quit buggin’ me!” But deep down they are listening. You can encourage them to write down their thoughts and then arrange a specific time to visit the local coffee shop for a planned conversation with you. If they aren’t caught off guard, they may be more willing to talk.
Another idea is to take a leisurely walk with them. Studies have shown physical activity can encourage bonding and conversation. According to Dr. Jennifer Carter in an article written by Kirsten Weir entitled “The Exercise Effect”, Dr. Carter’s patients tend to relax and share more when they are walking during therapy. (Click on American Psychological Association to read the article.) I bet it will work with your young person, too.
Just make sure you take this time to listen to your child.
Really listen. It’s their time to speak.
Use affirming words like, “I hear you say…” so they know you are paying attention to them. I’m betting they will open up even more. Try not to let your eyeballs bulge out if they say something unexpected or surprising. Be coooooollllll….
In Child Trends Research Brief Parents Matter: The Role of Parents in Teens’ Decisions About Sex written by Erum Ikramullah, Jennifer Manlove, Carol Cui, and Kristin A. Moore, studies are summarized that show just how important parents are in influencing their kids when it comes to sexual health decisions – even more than peers! They actually listen to adults, but we have to make ourselves available to them.
I’ve talked about this topic before in a previous blog, however instead of the word “purpose” I used the word “goal”. Use the terminology you are comfortable with. But just find time to talk to the adolescent in your life.
This is not a “sex” topic per se, but think about it. This can open lines of communication with the young person in your life that can be helpful when you approach other intriguing topics such as condom use or oral sex.
To find out more about Dr. Strecher and his work on finding one’s purpose, please visit dungbeetle.org. Yes, you heard me. Dung. Beetle. Check it out – there’s a reason he uses that name. There’s even information to help coach you through defining your own purpose.
(I do want to disclaim any relationship or partnership with Dr. Strecher. I just wanted to share something that I found pretty cool and relate it to my own purpose … adolescent sexual health education.)
On that note, I believe my next ‘purpose’ is a chocolate chip cookie….yummmmm.