Yesterday, my intern Ellie and I had the honor and privilege of attending a high school health fair geared towards students. What an awesome idea! By having this event, the messages sent to these young people are: 1) You are important enough for the school to devote an entire day to your health and well-being, and 2) There are numerous resources within the community to support your physical, mental/emotional, social, and academic needs – you are not alone. How awesome is that? Kudos to the teacher for organizing this well-attended event.
Sexual health was addressed with booths manned by community services that support HIV/STI testing (Open Door Clinic), pregnancy testing and services (Fox Valley Pregnancy Services), and teen parenting (Teen Parent Connection). Of course, our booth – TeenWorldConfidential – is a resource for medically-accurate sexual health information. Having all of these organizations present communicated to the students that sexual health is an important part of being human, and that the adults in the school care about this aspect of their lives. How cool is that?
While there, I had students answer one of nine questions related to sexual health education. I am still tallying up the outcomes, however I wanted to share one reassuring and inspiring result.
When asked if they felt comfortable talking about sex with their parents, the overwhelming majority answer “yes”! They stated that having a “good relationship” and “open communication” with their parents opened doors to easy discussion. Some stated that parents began the conversation about sex early in their growth and development, therefore talking to parents now is not a big deal.
Of course there were those that felt they could not talk about sex with their parents because either it is “weird” or “awkward” to do so, or their parents are just plain “weird”. (I can relate – my own kids say certain topics are “weird” to talk to me about! Apparently I become “over-interested” in learning about their new boyfriends. (Well, duh! Do you blame me?)….But I digress.)
My point is….. parents, guardians, educators, youth supporters…..keep up the good work and keep the conversation going.
Don’t know how to start? You feel “weird” talking about it? Try these starters:
-Ask them what they learned in health class.
-Discuss a current news story. That shouldn’t be too hard – I don’t think a day goes by that there isn’t some sex-related news story being broadcast.
-When watching TV or a movie together, chances are there will be some scene that will relate to sex – use that!
-Arrange for a specific time to sit and talk together. Let them know the topic in advance, however!
Kids are curious – they want to know stuff. But not just about condoms and STI’s – they want to know about the really juicy stuff, too…Relationships. Love. Friendship. Decision-making about sex. Values. Responsibility. Needless to say, it is not a one-time conversation. Just remember to be honest about your feelings, values, and even your knowledge about sex. It is okay to say, “gosh, I’m not sure!” if they ask you a tricky question.
Respecting your child’s thoughts, opinions, and questions will encourage repeated conversation. If they announce they are thinking of becoming sexually active, this is NOT the time to say very loudly “OH MY GOSH! YOU ARE TOO YOUNG!!!”. (But it is okay if you freak-out a little in your head. I know you can’t help it…just don’t let on.) Listen to what they have to say – they are talking to you for guidance, advice, information. Do the best you can. Be human. Be honest. Be respectful. Use some humor. It’s okay to laugh together! But apparently, being “weird” is out.
According to Mayo Clinic, “studies show that teens whose parents talk openly about sex are more responsible in their sexual behavior.” Isn’t that what we want?
And according to the small sample of students who answered my question, “Are you comfortable talking to your parent(s) about sex?”, 69% think it’s really kind of cool to talk about sex with mom and dad.
Just don’t be weird about it.