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Creating an Enabling Environment to Talk about Sexual Health with Teenagers

A teenager is a curious fellow. There’s a lot of exploring and experimenting often with things they’ve been told to stay away from. It is also during this time that they’re going through physical and emotional changes that they need to unpack, understand and yield into.

For most parents, the adolescence stage for their kids is nothing short of a nightmare…from rebellion to bad behavior. You want to protect your child from the dangers of the world they are so eager to go into but no matter how big your safety net is, they might still slip away.

There’s the fear that comes from them indulging in unhealthy behavior that may put them at risk of hanging with the wrong crowd, not taking their studies seriously, engaging in drugs, and the biggest one…. indulging in sex!

I know how difficult sex as a topic can be and you may feel like you’re walking on eggshells at the thought of “the talk”. Remember this is also a delicate time for your teenagers. They’re highly impressionable and they can easily pick up, belief, and act on the data they receive. And in today’s information age…. it’s quite literally at their fingertips.

Both traditional and social media are such big opinion-shapers of sex and it’s mostly screwed and twisted to fit a narrative….one that’s easily believable by young adults. That’s why the first point of information on sex education should be the parent or primary caregiver. When you shift the responsibility to educate your children on sex to other parties – (peers, teachers, media), you expose them to a skewed view of it – one that may be inaccurate, mythical, harmful, and reckless.

Sexuality is a normal part of the circle of life and once we treat it as such, it becomes easier to teach our children how to navigate it. You as a parent hold so much power to guide your children towards what’s right and healthy.

Parents may be hesitant to talk about sex because they may not have adequate sexuality information, there is no openness with their children, talking about sex is a cultural taboo or they hold limiting attitudes towards sex.

How to extend safe spaces to your children

Teenagers often feel like nobody understands them and what they’re going through. Their growing pains of body and mood changes contribute a lot to their closed-off nature – add that to everyday stressors. You’re your child’s first point of socialization so how you treat them is how they show up in the world.

Children need to feel safe enough to open up about their feelings and struggles and if you don’t provide that, they will seek it elsewhere. They’re looking for an outlet for all their curiosity and home needs to be the place they’re confident enough that they’ll receive answers.

Sometimes children may go through serious issues like sexual abuse from another family member, stranger, or someone known to them but they feel like they’re not safe enough to come forward because they won’t be believed or will be punished for speaking up. Damage like that stays with a child and they suffer in silence right into their adulthood.

  • Research shows that children want more adults they can confide in which calls for parents to be askable adults. To be askable means that you’re an active listener, you’re easy to talk to, and that you respect your child’s right to privacy and feeling. Cultivate in yourself values like patience, non-judgment, kindness, open-mindedness, honesty, consistency, and trustworthiness.

  • Be a resourceful parent. Arm yourself with the right knowledge about sex and sexual health which involves consent, healthy relationships, hygiene, and sexuality. Start by explaining what your family values are around sex and how they may be different from other people’s values. Remove the veil of shame and fear surrounding sexual health – make your children comfortable first.

  • Ask your teenagers about existing information they may have gathered or heard about sex. Deconstruct the myths together then build a knowledge base of resources they can use to educate themselves more like books and websites. Approach the discussions with seriousness and maturity and don’t treat teens like suspects of risky sexual behavior…. build enough confidence in your children to not be ashamed about sexual health conversations.

  • Encourage discourse and inquisitiveness. No questions or topics should be out of bounds. Exchange ideas and thoughts with them to know what they might need to know in a particular moment. Try and answer them to the best of your knowledge and when you don’t know something, it’s okay to admit that you don’t. It shows that you’re still human and also learning in the process.

  • Teach practically by using case examples and hypothetical situations to help them know how they’d react in different situations. Example; “What do you say when someone touches you without your consent?” Make up different scenarios that have the possibility of happening and go through their responses with an open and judgment-free mind.

  • Lead by example. Evidence shows that teenagers from healthy family environments and who have stable relationships with their parents are more likely to use contraceptives, be abstinent, postpone physical intimacy until they’re ready, and have fewer partners. Your children will assimilate and mirror your behavior and they’re truly hanging on your every word even if they don’t show it. Make them feel heard and seen by you.

At the end of the day, all that matters is that you’ve given your best and started the discussions about sexual health with your children. It’s never too late but doesn’t keep postponing “the talk”. Instead of reducing it to one dreadful conversation that you’d rather not have, make it a continuous learning process. Always look for teachable moments to drive your points home. You may not have a lot of control over what they choose to do but you’d rather live with the peace of knowing you taught them well.


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