Even if it doesn’t feel like it in the moment, teens really do want to know what their parents think and expect from them. And it’s never too early or too late to start talking, so if you haven’t yet, today is a great day to start.
Approaching the subject
Rather than having “the talk,” it’s a good idea to have several little talks over time. Everyday life provides lots of opportunities for talking about sex and relationships. For example, watching TV together can spark conversations organically and may make it easier to ask questions about your preteen or teen’s values, behaviors, and beliefs.
Here are some situations that can start a conversation:
- Someone announces they’re pregnant
- Puberty, dating, LGBTQ issues, love, or sex comes up on a TV show, movie, or song
- Gender stereotypes in ads, games, TV, books, or movies are presented
- Unrealistic portrayals of bodies (airbrushed models, for example) are displayed
- Ads for pads/tampons, birth control, or condoms
- News about sexual assault and harassment
You should also have conversations by checking in with your child regularly about what’s going on in their lives and with their friends. Ask about who they like or if their friends are dating. Be open and listen without judgment as best you can. Fill in gaps and correct misinformation. Give them your take on things based on your values and let them know they can always come to you.
If your teen or preteen asks you about something, ask them what they already know first and what made them think about the issue, and then answer as honestly as you can. If you don’t know the answer or you’re not sure how to explain it, look it up on your own or together. Check their understanding by asking if you’ve answered their question, and then keep the conversation open by seeing if they have follow-up questions or thoughts on the topic.
It’s okay if you feel a little awkward–the more practice you have with having these conversations, the easier it gets. The most important thing is to make it really clear that your teen can talk to you about this stuff and come to you for support without fear of shame or judgment. Having regular conversations sends the message that these topics are important enough to keep bringing it up and are a normal part of life. And PlannedParenthood.org/Parents is here for you with tips to talk with children of any age about a variety of topics.
Sonya Norsworthy, Interim Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, [email protected]