Dads. On Father’s Day the focus is on that guy who is traditionally seen as someone who works diligently all day to earn a living for his beloved family. However, we all know that what is known as “the traditional family” is morphing into a variety of perfectly acceptable variations: single-parent, two moms, two dads, step-parents, grandparents, guardians….you name it. It’s all good! However, for the purpose of this writing, I am going to use the word “dad” meaning any man that is a consistent and visible presence in a child’s world. It could be a birth dad, step dad, grand dad, uncle, family friend….you know who you are.
So men, you think the women in your lives want you to communicate more??? Now researchers want you to be more communicative, too – with your kids. Yes, it is time to man-up and communicate with your children.
Just ask Tim. He is quite certain he ruined his son; you may agree after you read this:
How I ruined my son..
“My son used to hang out with me when I was in the shower.
I did not realize how observant he was….
One day (maybe after a colder shower.. LOL) he said, “Daddy put your big penis on.”
Looking back I should have had a discussion with him. He was about 3 or 4 yrs old.”
Or maybe his son ruined him? I’m not sure. But what a great teachable moment! In the shower, talking about penis size. Hey – you take those moments when you get them!
Or possibly your child will teach you something, as the same dad reminisced about this moment with his daughter:
How I ruined my daughter…..
“I was in the basement sorting laundry. My younger daughter was helping me.. she was probably about 12 or so..
I came across what I thought was “thong underwear”.
I asked with alarm and concern “Whose the heck are these?” She said that they were hers.
I was shocked. I was expecting to be told that they belonged to her older sister.
When she said that they belonged to her I got really concerned and actually frightened.. it probably showed in the tone and level of my voice…
My next question was “Where did you get these?” which she answered “Mom.”
“Mom?” I responded … She followed with “What’s the big deal Dad?” Her embarrassment was increasing as my anger was increasing.
I then said “Do you know what this is?” and she with a high level of embarrassment said “yes, a training bra”
To her credit she continued to help me sort laundry after that…”
Even though this dad received a brutal lesson in becoming competent in adolescent undergarments (maybe a field trip to Victoria’s Secret should be on his agenda next??), the lessons his daughter received were even more valuable.
- He broke gender stereotypes by doing “women’s work”.?
- His daughter learned the value (and human connection) of working with others.
- She learned that her dad did NOT want her wearing dental-floss, I mean, thong underwear at a young age.
- Finally, she learned that maybe next time she will volunteer to clean toilets instead….
Many family values were shared in that moment. Awesome, if you ask me.
Ah, yes. Communication….
Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, a professor at NYU Silver School of Social Work, along with some peers from the CDC, analyzed several studies regarding the relationship between a “paternal” figure (dad, stepdad, granddad, uncle, etc.) and the adolescent in their life and how it impacted the young person’s sexual decision-making. In this enlightening report, published in Pediatrics*, they found a few consistent implications as they analyzed these studies.
The bottom line is, dads (or father figures) who connect with, who communicate with, and who have a genuine attachment to their kids can positively influence the young person in their life when it comes to sexual decision-making. Having conversations about expectations when it comes to sex isn’t always easy. Yet, it has been found that the child will be more likely to delay the first time they have sex, will be more likely to use a condom, and less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior.
Here’s a great example from Dave P. who wrote in:
‘I have a stepdaughter, age 16, who has started dabbling in “experimentation” with members of the opposite sex, mainly what my generation would call “playing kissy face” with boys. One such incident occurred last summer when, after GPS-ing her phone, I discovered her in a parked car in a not-so-nearby park with a boy that was about 3 years older. This jarred my memory about my own “good times” when I was a teen. But then I realized that life and sexual encounters today aren’t quite like they used to be. Kids are having sex at much younger ages these days and may not be as aware of the need for protection. The general mentality of today’s teens seems to demonstrate a feeling of “immortality” and that nothing is going to happen to them.
When my wife and I sat down with “Angie,” and discussed boys, their not-so-hidden agendas, and the need for protection, she was quite put off, stating she was well aware of all this. I advised her she shouldn’t use sex to get someone’s attention (which this clearly was), and that it should be something that’s shared between two people that have strong feelings for each other. They don’t think about reputation or the harm it could potentially do to their bodies. As I explained we are looking out for her own well-being, she understood and seems to have taken this advice to heart (or so I think!). As a step-father, discussing things like this with her, as well as my stepson (15 yrs), it has allowed me to feel closer to them and create a stronger overall bond within the family.”
See! Open communication works! Not only did these parents use this opportunity to teach about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships, they used the opportunity to share their values. Having a value system in place helps build self-efficacy which in turn inspires young people to delay having sex for the first time.
Then again, maybe there are times when putting up a barrier (ie: locked door) would be more useful, as Bob H. recollects:
“My son walked in on my wife and I in the midst of wild romance…he closed the door and exclaimed “ I don’t believe I just saw what I just saw”…
We explained that Mommy doesn’t normally wear handcuffs or a blindfold…
Honestly…I just sat him down and explained when a door is closed he needs to always knock. What Mom and I were doing was sharing something that a man and a woman both need and enjoy. He was ok with everything, he did say he preferred if we would lock the door because he wasn’t going to remember to knock and he still couldn’t believe we still did that stuff…that was 10-12 years ago…LOL Hysterical…we all three still laugh.”
Having a sense of humor about sexuality is a great ice-breaker. It can reassure the child that it is okay to talk about this stuff with dad (or mom) and that adults actually “get it”. They will see you as a safe person to talk with – and isn’t that what you want?
Using time with your child to communicate personal values has proven beneficial. However, educating one’s son or daughter can also be beneficial when having one of these heart-to-heart conversations about sex.
Here’s what one dad had to say:
“When my son reached middle school age my wife decided that it was time for me to have a discussion with him about sex. While we had private discussions, one memorable exchange came during a talk that included my son’s close friend and his father. My wife thought it might be helpful to have a two Dad –two son discussion, and that it might be more comfortable for all. Rather than lecturing, I decided it might be interesting to try to discover what the boys already knew. So I asked open ended questions. What did they know about reproduction? What did they know about conception? And so on….We were caught off guard a bit because we got pretty candid answers. And it was clear that they already had some good information about puberty, reproduction, and even some aspects of birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. However, nothing could have prepared us for the response when the discussion turned to more specifics about sexual contact.
Q:What do you know about oral sex?
A:(Without hesitation both boys said nearly in unison) Oh that’s when you do it over the phone!
My advice to parents- assume nothing- ask- you will be amazed by the answers you get.”
Ahhh…never assume your kids already know this stuff. Great advice, Dad. And I especially love the technique to assess what the kids already knew first. Kudos!
One final thought from Tim S., a father of four.
“I never really talked with my dad much at all.. I was blessed to have a wife that was wise enough and comfortable enough to talk with the kids about sex at a very early age explaining to them “how things work.” It was not a “Big Talk” but just conversations that came up during the day, etc… I was part of that conversation .. I did attempt to make the distinction of the difference between sexual feelings and Love. As a young person I was pretty confused not understanding the difference, or knowing there was a difference.”
The difference between love and sex. What a wonderful conversation that could be with your child, especially as they are beginning to experience all those confusing feelings that come with puberty and hormonal influx. Thanks, Tim.
I think you get the idea. These dads set about to address only one topic, or merely wanted to fold laundry, yet ended up addressing a variety of pertinent sex topics.
As you confidently (well, just fake it) embark on a series of sexual health conversations, you may find yourself discussing topics with your kids that you did not plan on, just as these dads experienced.
Little did they realize what they were actually teaching their children….
- Anatomy (Penis shrinkage – hey! It’s a fact of life!)
- Mechanics of sex (Well, we can call it physiology if that makes you nervous.)
- Appropriate expressions of love
- Sex is private (i.e.: Please don’t sext!)
- Relationships: Love vs Sex
- Healthy vs. Unhealthy relationships
- Sexual terminology
- Undergarments. Well, okay – maybe that is something that isn’t necessarily pressing.
One other interesting finding from the study. It seems that young people with super strict parents or super lenient parents tend to engage in sex earlier than those with parents who were more middle-of-the-road. I bet that little tidbit has your wheels spinning now, doesn’t it?
As you make time for the young person in your life, turn off your phone and put it away. Give them 100% attention. This not only tells the child that you care deeply for them, but that what you are about to discuss is very important. They will not only listen, but they will HEAR you. And we all want our kids to hear our voices in their head as they enter the throes of ecstasy with their (current) love-of-their-life, right? That oughta kill the mood.
Want to know more? Here are links to some great articles about this topic, one of which I referenced in this article. (See the asterisk? That’s the one.) Pretty interesting stuff….
*Paternal Influences on Adolescent Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Structured Literature Review
A Qualitative Analysis of Father–Son Relationships among HIV-Positive Young Black Men Who Have Sex with Men (This one is good, too. It talks about how young black men who have sex with men (MSM) will decrease risky behavior (that might cause them to become HIV-infected) if they have honest communication and connection with their dads.
I’d love to hear other stories about communicating with your child! Please share with me!