As a parent, it’s very important for you to be “askable”. What does that mean? To be askable means that young people see you open to questions. Being askable about sexual topics is something that most parents want but that many find very hard. Probably many adults didn’t have much sex education when growing up. In many homes sex was not discussed whether from fear, out of embarrassment or lack of knowledge.
Some adults feel worried because they think:
- They don’t know the right words or the right answers;
- They are too old for their kids;
- They can be giving too much or too little information; or giving information at the wrong time.
Being askable is important. Studies show that youth who have less or wrong information about sexuality and its risks may experiment more and at earlier ages compared to youth who have more information. Research also shows that when teens are able to talk with their parents about sex and about protection, are less likely to have sexual contact than teens who haven’t. Finally, youth often say that they want to talk about sex, relationships, and sexual health with their parents—parents are their preferred source of information on these subjects.
Because being askable is so important and because so many parents find hard to start conversations about sex with their kids, adults may need to learn about sex education to feel more confident talking about it. Here are some tips from experts about sex education.
- Remember how you felt when you were a teen. Remember that it was a difficult time. One moment, a teen wants to be totally independent, and the next moment urgently needs an adult’s support.
- Remember that teens want respectful conversations for both sides. Avoid ordering. Share your feelings, values, and attitudes and listen to and learn about theirs. Remember that you can’t order anyone else’s feelings, attitudes, or values.
- Don’t assume that a teen is sexually experienced or inexperienced, knowledgeable or naive. Listen carefully to what your teen is saying and/or asking. Respond to the teen’s actual or unstated question, not to your own fears or worries.
- Don’t underestimate your teen’s ability to weigh the pros and cons of her/his options. Teens have values, and they are capable of making responsible decisions, especially when they have all the needed facts and the opportunity to discuss options with you. If you give your teen misinformation she/he may lose trust in you, just as she/he will trust you if you are a reliable source of clear and truthful information. Of course, a teen’s decisions may be different from ones you would make.
Being askable is a lifelong component of relationships. It opens doors to closer relationships and to family connections. It’s never too late to begin!
- Get accurate information from reliable sources. Remember that sexuality is a much larger topic than sexual contact. It includes biology and gender, of course, but it also includes emotions, intimacy, caring, sharing, and loving, attitudes, romance, and sexual orientation as well as reproduction and sexual intercourse.
- Learn and use the correct terms for body parts and functions. If you have difficulty saying some words without embarrassment, practice saying these words, in private and with a mirror, until you are as comfortable with them as with non-sexual words. For example, you want to be able to say “penis” as easily as you say “elbow.”
- Think through your own feelings and values about love and sex. Include your childhood memories, your first love, your values, and how you feel about current sex-related issues, such as contraceptives, reproductive rights, and equality with regard to sex, gender, and sexual orientation. You must be aware of how you feel before you can effectively talk with youth.
- Talk with your child. Listen more than you speak. Make sure you and your child have open, two-way communication—as it forms the basis for a positive relationship between you and your child. Only by listening to each other you can understand one another, especially regarding love and sexuality. Often, adults and youth perceive these things differently.
- Don’t worry about :
- Being “with it ” Youth have that with their peers. From you, they want to know what you believe, who you are, and how you feel.
- Being embarrassed. Your kids will feel embarrassed, too. That’s okay, because love and many aspects of sexuality, including sexual intercourse, are very personal. Young people understand this.
- Deciding which parent should have this talk. Any loving parent or caregiver can be a good sex educator for his/her children.
- Missing some of the answers. It’s fine to say that you don’t know. Just follow up by offering to find the answer or to work with your child to find the answer. Then do so.