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Fifteen tips for talking to your kids about sex

October 14th, 2008

Dr Petra

Tonight I’ll be appearing on Channel 4 television’s ‘The Sex Education Show’ in an exercise where parents were given support and encouragement to talk to their teens about sex. You can tune in at 8pm this evening, and I’ll post a link to the show tomorrow along with some reflections on delivering sex education by the media plus a list of resources for parents and teens.

One of the things I gave the parents and teens I worked with for The Sex Education Show was a list of tips on how to communicate more effectively about sex and relationships, which are listed below.

1. Keep the focus is on relationships and sex – not just sex
This means talking about feelings, emotions, confidence and communication – not just biology.

2. Don’t go for one ‘big talk’

Lots of smaller conversations that cover many topics are much more helpful to you both.

3. Get support from other sources

Your school, local Primary Care Trust or other parents groups can all help give you and your child sex and relationships education

4. Do your homework

Read up on websites and books (see above), talk to other parents and find out what’s being taught in your child’s school – so you’re prepared for any questions that may come, or are ready to ask your own.

5. Don’t be put off by ‘I already know that!’

Kids can deflect embarrassment by saying they know things that they may not be sure about. If you meet with this response invite them to teach you what they know and if there’s anything either of you are unsure of then take the time to investigate and discuss.

6. Don’t feel you have to know everything

It’s fine to say ‘I don’t know’ if your child asks you a question. But you should then be prepared to find out the answer for them and either explain it, or point them in the right direction to find out more.

7. Don’t wait for your child to come to you

Many parents assume if their child wants to know something, they’ll come and ask you. Often children are waiting for parents to chat to them! From childhood you can start talking about naming the body, confidence and boundaries. Prior to puberty you can explain periods or wet dreams, and developmental changes. During puberty and after you can advice on sex, feelings, negotiating boundaries, contraception, sexual health and so on.

8. Boundaries are okay

Parents often feel they have to cover all the sex education bases, but frequently children may not want to hear certain things from their folks. (particularly anything about your sex life!). Cover basic sex information and refer your child to other resources where appropriate.

9. Use available resources

There are plenty of opportunities to talk sex with your child. Soap operas, music videos, films and TV shows, teen magazines or websites all have sex or relationship-related content. Use plotlines, articles or lyrics to discuss issues, and to let your child ask questions.

10. Listen to their ideas

Your child may have more ideas about sex and be more responsible than you think. Let them tell you how they feel as a means of reassuring yourself and finding out if there are any key areas where they might need more support.

11. Try not to close doors

If you have strong moral or religious views, it’s easy to say ‘this is what we believe’ and not discuss anything further. Topics like premarital sex, abortion or homosexuality may be things you don’t understand or disagree with. If you feel you can’t discuss an issue, again point your teenager towards a resource that can help them.

12. Try not to be shocked

Your child may mention things that concern you. They may raise issues that you feel they oughtn’t know about, or perhaps offend you. It may make you aware of your lack of sexual knowledge, or problems in your own sex life. If you feel upset or concerned, it’s okay for you and/or your child to have ‘time out’ – where you collect your thoughts. If you think your child is being sexually exploited, stay calm, try and find as much information from them as possible, and then seek appropriate legal and medical help.

13. They often only want to know the basics

Frequently parents worry that a simple (ish) question like ‘where do babies come from?’ will either have to lead to an in-depth chat about everything sexual, or needs to be a lengthy biology lesson. Most kids have straightforward questions that need straightforward answers.

14. Talking about sex doesn’t lead to sex

Parents’ main fear is discussing sex leads to their child rushing out and trying it. Or if they ask a question about sex it means they’ve already tried it. Rest assured, the evidence around sex education suggests that the more you talk about sex with children, the less likely they are to try sex early, and when they do have sex they’re more likely to use contraception, enjoy the experience, and not be coerced.

15. Show an interest in their lives
Asking about their mate’s lives can also show you care and aren’t shocked by teenage issues. This makes it easier for your teenager to trust you and confide their problems when necessary. Supporting your child in interests, hobbies and activities can also make them feel empowered and supported.

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