Posted on May 2, 2016 by Bianca De León
I recently answered a frantic telephone call from a friend. Let’s call her Sara. She caught her 13 year old son looking at pornography on his iPad. Sara was calling me because she heard me talk about my work and the importance of talking with your kids. Instead of ignoring the situation, or getting mad about it, she wanted some guidance and advice on how to address this uncomfortable situation.
Since 2007, the Paso del Norte Health Foundation has maintained a media campaign with a simple message: talk with your kids. Not to your kids, or at your kids, but with your kids. It’s part of the Two Should Know initiative that is focused on healthy relationships and sexuality. Studies show that young people who report feeling a lack of parental love or caring are more likely to report lower self-esteem, school problems, drug use, and sexual risk behaviors. Furthermore, research indicates that adolescents who report feeling connected to parents and family are more likely to delay initiating sexual intercourse, report less marijuana use and less emotional distress than their peers.
Most parents want to talk with their kids about difficult topics like dating, or sex, but might feel embarrassed, afraid, or upset about these conversations. If you find yourself in a situation similar to Sara’s, here are some tips that might help prepare for and navigate the conversations:
- Don’t catastrophize. When youth come to their parents with concerns, they need a calming, rational presence that will create a safe space for them. When parents yell or lecture and make the situation seem worse, youth may leave more anxious and may not return. When it comes to these concerns, remember that youth need advice from their parents, not another friend.
- Ask curious questions, not loaded questions. Ask the youth for ideas and be collaborative. Help youth think for themselves, which will in turn help them develop self-confidence.
- Take the emotions out of the equation. Emotion is the enemy when trying to get through to youth. Parents may not like how youth behave—or even how they think—but keep emotions out of it. This is not an easy thing to do; it’s tough, but it’s a skill that can be learned just like any other.
- Keep the conversations going. Having open and honest conversations consistently with youth can help them make healthy decisions. Don’t stop after the first situation arises. Check in with them often. The more often parents talk about difficult topics with ease, the more confidence parents will have in their child that they will do the right thing.
- Ask for help. Parents are not expected to have all the answers. Being able to tell youth that you do not know the answer, but that both of you can look for it together, can be an excellent way to learn. Seeking help from other parents, health educators, and family members can be helpful.
I recently followed up with Sara to see how things were going. She indicated that the first conversation was hard for both of them, but it has led to more conversations on all sorts of topics.
For additional tips and conversation starters, visit www.twoshouldknow.org.
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