How many times have you witnessed a young person, just about to head off to college, roll their eyeballs when asked, “what do you plan to major in?”. They must be asked that about 600 times from junior year on….until they graduate from college.

However, this IS a significant question to ask.

Think about it…..

A loaded question.

We aren’t just asking them what career path they want to take, we are asking them how are they going to get there? Where do they see themselves as an adult? What kind of person do they hope to become? What are their dreams? Hopes? Desires?

Yet, we don’t often verbalize those questions. We should help them think outside the typical “I want to be a fireman” box and into the “where do I see myself as an adult and how will I get there” box.

Opening up this type of dialog when our children are young makes it much easier to continue the discussion when they are older. (Get used to that sentence – you’ll hear that a lot from me.)

Of course, you need to approach it much more simplistically when they are younger. Little comments about being kind to others or showing examples of adults that are positive role models are ways to get their wheels spinning.

As our kids get older, we can start discussing some of their personal goals and how to reach them. Talk about these points*:

  • Is the goal realistic in relation to their abilities, talents, and interests?
  • What are their expectations when setting the goal?
  • What steps must they take to reach their goal?
  • Honor the commitments needed to achieve the goal.
  • What would prevent them from reaching that particular goal? What would merely be a stumbling block? Encourage flexibility. How can they re-route their path if it’s not working out the way they planned?
  • Is it possible there might be other outcomes? How would that effect other goals?
  • Most importantly, surround themselves with positive people that will help them achieve their goal.

So, what does this have to do with adolescent sexual health? It has been shown that individuals who have goals and plans for their future are less likely to engage in activities that might risk successfully meeting their goals.* Does that mean adolescents will never do anything that will ever put them in a risky situation? Um, no. But it does mean they just may wait a little longer or take fewer risks.

Bottom line, discuss your child’s future with them. Help them dream, set goals, plan, and did I say dream? Help them keep the “big prize” within their sight. Don’t be a pest by constantly nagging them about doing better in school or else “you’ll never be a doctor!” Just relax and enjoy the ride with them. They will change their future idea of themselves throughout their lives. It is so exciting to watch! Just be there for them when they need support.

*(Weinstein, Estelle, and Efrem Rosen. Teaching About Human Sexuality and Family: A Skills-Based Approach. Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006. Print.)