BY EVELYN KAPPELER
THE PARENTS SPEAK UP NATIONAL CAMPAIGN SUGGESTS THAT NOW IS A GOOD TIME FOR YOU TO BEGIN THE ALL-IMPORTANT CONVERSATION ABOUT SEX WITH YOUR PRE-TEENS AND TEENS
Did you know the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world? According to the Center for Disease Control’s latest study (2006), Georgia ranked 10th in the nation in teen births. The current teen birth rate in Georgia (54.2) is significantly higher than the national rate (41.9). More than one in four teenage girls nationwide has a STD. Teen sexual activity has also been linked to emotional problems, such as depression. The facts are clear—parents need to talk early and often with their kids about waiting to have sex until marriage.
Parents can just share their values about what they believe and want for their child. As the school year gets under way, why not prepare yourself to start the conversation?
Parents Speak Up offers information and support you can use to more comfortably talk with your kids about making healthy sexual decisions. This information and support has been tested with parents and was developed after discussions with parents around the country. Suggested tips for talking with your kids about sex include:
Use teachable moments. Many everyday occurrences offer a natural way to ease into the conversation. Maybe it is a scene from a movie or TV show. Perhaps it is a song lyric or news story. Use these, or anything else that seems appropriate, as conversation starters—and do it subtly.
Dole out bite-sized bits. Don’t try to cover the whole subject in one sitting. Discussing sex is overwhelming and uncomfortable for you and your kids, so toss out small bits of information and opinion one at a time. Little by little, your kids will get the big picture, and they will appreciate you for not giving a big parental lecture.
Keep things light. Talking about sex can be heavy and difficult, so lighten it up. Use a little humor—not to underplay the seriousness of the subject, but to disarm your child’s anxiety (and yours). Don’t feel like you have to make direct eye contact either, as that can increase the discomfort. Many parents and children, for example, may prefer to talk in the car.
Don’t preach. Share. Let your children know how you felt when you were their age so they know you understand what they are going through. Ask questions. Making this a two-way discussion (rather than “The Talk”) will help kids feel more comfortable and respond better when they are talked with, not at.
You can do this. Your kids want to know how you feel about sex, and they want to know you care about the sexual choices they make. In fact, they care more about what you have to say than what their friends or the media tell them. Eighty-eight percent of teens say it would be easier to avoid early sexual activity if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about the topic with their parents. Of course, they are not likely to initiate the dialogue, so you need to take the first step and keep the conversation going. Try these suggestions, and visit www.4parents.gov for more helpful ideas.#
Evelyn Kappeler is Acting Director, Office of Population Affairs, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
KIDS AND SEX Q & A SESSION
PARENTS NEED TO SPEAK UP
Parents of pre-teens and teens must be proactive by talking with their kids about waiting to have sex. Research shows that parents have the greatest influence on their kids’ sexual decisions, yet many parents feel uncomfortable talking about this sensitive issue.
Dr. Jean Spaulding is a child and adolescent psychiatrist in private practice for more than 30 years, wants parents to better understand the potential risks children face from early sexual activity, and offers positive steps to help parents talk to their kids about delaying sexual activity. Dr. Spaulding is the former Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs at Duke University Health System and currently serves a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association.
Q Why should parents be concerned about their teens’ sexual activity?
A Children who engage in sexual behaviors at an early age are at high risk of suffering negative consequences, physically and emotionally.
Q What are some of the physical consequences?
A One in four teenage girls nationwide has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). This recently released STD statistic is alarming. Additionally, young girls who get pregnant often do not have the physical body or the emotional maturity to sustain a normal pregnancy and the results therefore can be damaging.
Q And the emotional consequences?
A These range broadly. Self-esteem can decrease. Guilt, regret and depression can all increase. Some kids even engage in eating disorders, gaining weight in an attempt to attract less sexual attention.
Q How are kids exposed to sexual pressures?
A Today’s media has made it very difficult for children to grow up and maintain their innocence. Kids are bombarded with sexual images and messages via music, television and the Internet starting at an extremely young age. It is common for both girls and boys to interpret this exposure as pressure to engage in early sexual behaviors.
Q When should parents begin talking with their kids about sex?
A Ideally, parents will begin building a foundation to have a lifelong conversation during their child’s preschool years. By the time children reach nine or 10, parents should begin having fairly in-depth, ongoing conversations with an emphasis on parental expectations, the family’s values, aspects of integrity, and the importance of waiting until an appropriate time in their lives.
Q Nine or 10 seems young. Why so early?
A It is my professional experience that most parents are about two years behind where their children are. For example, if their child is 12, the parent thinks they have the sexual interest of a 10-year-old. And unfortunately this two-year gap exists not only in what their children think and know about sex, but also in what their children are doing sexually. All too often, by the time parents get around to talking about sex, their children are already sexually active.
Q Why are parents uncomfortable talking about sex?
A Many parents never talked about sex with their parents, so it is a foreign experience. Also, for many, having conversations about mature topics like sex signals their child’s independence—and that can be scary, triggering feelings of loss or grieving. Rather than focus on this sense of loss, it is important for parents to realize they will maintain a closer relationship with their children and influence their child’s decisions by having conversations around sexuality.
Q What advice do you have for parents preparing to talk about sex?
A The conversation should not be huge or overwhelming. Parents should initiate a series of smaller informal talks that are light and airy. Also, it is easier to talk when parents are not looking face-to-face with their child, so I encourage them to talk while they are doing something like cooking dinner, driving, or taking a walk.
Q Where can parents get started?
A As a psychiatrist who sees children and adolescents all day long, I am grateful the Parents Speak Up National Campaign has been initiated. Parents Speak Up has free resources available at www.4parents.gov that focus on how to speak with children about morals, values, aspects of integrity, and sexuality.
Q What is at risk when parents choose not to talk about sex?
A When parents do not speak up about important topics like sex, their children are left with a huge void that will begin to be filled by the media, by peers, and by pressure coming from other adults.
Q Any parting words for parents of pre-teens and teens?
A This isn’t easy, and you’re not alone. If you are able to deliver two or three sentences in the first conversation, that is a victory. Over time, the anxiety will decrease, and your child will begin to engage and share more with you. You can do this!#
Courtesy of Parents Speak Up National Campaign, www.4parents.gov.