The Talk

Some parents may make it a point to talk to their teens about sex but there are a few who may foist that responsibility on the Internet or their Science teacher.

‘‘If parents do not teach their children about sex, then they will learn about it from somewhere else and an opportunity to instil family values will be lost.’’ – About Kids Health

This makes it a very good reason to want to talk to your own kids about sex. How else will they know right from wrong especially at an age where everything is confusing?

If you’re not sure where to start, we spoke to Faith Foo, certified Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapist and professional counsellor at Abri Integrated Mental Health, on how best to tackle ‘The Talk’ with your teen.

1Twenty80: Why don’t parents talk to their children about sex?

Faith Foo: According to a survey done by the Australian Scholarships Group (ASG), it reported that only 45 percent of Asian parents say that they can talk openly about sex at home. The main reason is that most Asian parents don’t know enough about sex themselves.

Secondly, Asian parents are not comfortable about the subject. The parents do not have adequate knowledge of sexually transmitted infections (STI), HIV and unintended pregnancy. Discussing it is a big part of discussing healthy sexuality with a child that moves beyond the biological mechanics of sex. Sex is a huge topic. It covers how bodies work, unintended pregnancy, relationships and feelings, types of contraception and where to get them, STIs, tests, treatment and more.

It’s okay to be embarrassed or uncomfortable. Sex is a complicated subject. If parents are confident in their knowledge of these topics, they will be able to answer their child’s questions more readily. Though difficult as it may be, sex education is a parent’s responsibility.

1Twenty80: Why is it important for parents to talk to their children about sex?

Faith: Parents can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy sexuality. Sex is everywhere. It’s implied or explicitly addressed in entertainment and also advertising. It is hard to avoid this lifelong topic but since sex is still a taboo topic for Asians, parents tend to wait for the perfect moment to discuss it and they usually end up missing the cue.

With proper sex education, parents can help reduce the chances of their teen engaging in behaviours that place them at risk by communicating honestly about sex-related topics, including healthy relationships, prevention of HIV, other STIs and unintended pregnancy.

1Twenty80: How does talking with your teen about sex different compared, learning about it from the internet or from school?

Faith: Does talking with teens about sex make a change? According to some surveys conducted on this topic the answer is ‘YES’. Most teens say they share their parents’ values about sex and making decisions about delaying sex would be easier if they could talk openly and honestly with their parents. Teens report that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex, more than friends, siblings or the media.

1Twenty80: Could you give some parents some ideas to get started?

Faith: Sure! Here are some tips:

  • Get some education – Go to the bookstore and read books on sex education. Read up on healthy relationships. Talk to your child about healthy concepts such as communication, consent, and intimacy.
  • Walk the talk – Do your best to model a healthy relationship with your own behaviour with your partner.
  • Be relaxed, open and truthful – Talking about sex, relationships, and the prevention of HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy may not always be comfortable or easy, but you can encourage your teen to ask you questions and be prepared to give fair and honest answers. Be willing and available to talk. Encourage questions and conversations. Be honest and prepared to answer questions that may make you uncomfortable. It’s completely alright to say you’re feeling uncomfortable or that you don’t have all the answers and offer to look them up together.
  • Seize the moment – Identify unique opportunities to have conversations with your teen, like going home in car ride, shopping or some other moment that offer the best openings to talk. Car rides can be like a private space where you don’t have to look at your kids but you can express and have them listen to what you have to say. Following a movie or television series, certain storylines can open the opportunity to talk about positive behaviour and discuss the consequences of risky behaviour.
  • Hear out your child’s point of view – Don’t stop your teen or pose a threat to discourage them talking about sex. In fact, listen wisely, recognise your teen’s pressures, challenges and concerns. If needed, get professional help to talk with them.
  • Don’t preach – Have a conversation with your teen. Find out what they think and how they feel about sexuality and relationships. Then you will be able to share information and respond to questions in ways that will echo with the belief system they are developing for themselves.
  • Show respect – When your teen shares personal information with you, keep in mind that they may be asking for your input or wants to know how you feel. Let your teen know that you value their opinions, even if it is different from yours.

Quote: with their parents’ support, when teens learn about respect, healthy relationships, and what is right or wrong, they can emerge into a sexually responsible adult.

1Twenty80: What is your take home message to our readers?

Faith: Note that your discussions with your teen doesn’t have to just focus on the implications of risky sexual behaviours. As a parent, you can discuss with your teen about topics such as:

  • What constitutes a healthy and respectful relationship?
  • Your own values and expectations of them about relationships and sex.
  • Find out up-to-date information about ways to prevent HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.
  • Tell them the benefits of protecting oneself from HIV, STDs, and unintended pregnancy.
  • Give options where your teen can speak with a trusted counsellor regarding sexual issues and other sensitive topics.

Teens will inevitably learn about sex and sexuality from their environment anyway, and it is obvious that the environment is not always very safe or reliable. Thus, it is up to caring parents to influence their kids’ moral development, healthy decision-making abilities, self-esteem, and level of comfort with their own sexuality. This is a parents’ responsibility.

Research has shown that teens are less likely to have sex at an early age if they feel close to their parents and if their parents clearly communicate their values. With their parents’ support, when teens learn about respect, healthy relationships, and what is right or wrong, they can emerge into a sexually responsible adult.

References: About Kids Health