The Talk

As children transition into teenagers and young adults there are many tough subjects and questions that parents must address. One of the toughest subjects is sex. Many people refer to this conversation between someone coming of age and an adult as - “The Talk.” This can be a hard topic to address because many people do not know how to start or continue the conversation. Many parents ask: What are the right issues to address? How much do teens “really” need to know? What does my teen already know? At what age should I talk to my teen about sex?

There should not be any subject that makes parents feel uncomfortable while talking to their teen. Information should be free flowing and easily accessible. This also ensures that teens feel comfortable coming to their parent for other issues and future questions. Sex is a topic that is not taken lightly in many households, but it is hard to avoid a topic that is ever present. This is a very real topic that demands attention, and that is why it is so important for parents to have “The Talk” with their teens.

“If you don’t educate them, someone else will. They learn from behaviors and attitudes modeled by other adults, from the media and popular culture, and certainly from peers. Stand up and let your own views be counted as part of their sex education,” as stated on healthychildren.org, in an article titled, Talking to Your Child About Sex.

 

According to the Mayo Clinic, parents must be willing to reach out to their teens and address tough topics such as sex. “Think of sex education as an ongoing conversation,” the Mayo Clinic said in an article under the sexual health section of their website.

The Mayo Clinic emphasized some key aspects that parents should follow while addressing sex education. They stated the importance of seizing an opportunity, honesty, being direct, considering teens perspectives, going beyond factual knowledge, and inviting further discussion. If an advertisement, television program, or even someone else’s behavior sparks a question or an issue, it is important for parents to recognize this as an opportunity. Using these experiences to start talking about sex is an easy way to start the conversation without actually bringing it up.

Honesty and being direct are important because teens need to know they are getting facts from a reliable source. It is better for them to get the truth from a parent instead of leaving with questions and seeking answers elsewhere. If a parent is unsure of an answer, offer to get back to them with an answer later. Do not guess or make something up to avoid discomfort in the conversation. Knowledge is key.

Teens perspectives should also be taken into consideration. Teens are exposed to so much more in today’s society due to different media and overall cultural change. It is safe to assume that this means there are also more pressures and challenges that surround teens as well. Parents should listen first before jumping into a conversation. Every teen is different and each teen may be experiencing different issues surrounding sex. After parents know their teens perspective, they can address specific topics more easily.

As parents move beyond factual information, and move to more discussion, it is important to invite teens to talk about their feeling, values, and thoughts toward the topic. Teens need to know that their personal thoughts are cared for and their parents are there to support them. Emotions are running high at this age and parents should emphasise that the transition into adulthood comes with challenges through the ethics, values, and responsibilities that surround sex. This gives teens an opening to ask further question as they arise.

 

Evidence of having “The Talk”, or lack thereof, can be seen throughout the years. Parenting coach, Lisa Bunnage, shared a few stories about hookup culture and sex education in her TEDxSFU Talk, entitle, The Unsexy Truth, The Hookup Culture.(Disclaimer, the video content may be sensitive for some viewers) Bunnage also outlines the standard family dynamic in America over the last few centuries. She explains how changes in society and culture have affected the way teens are educated about sex.

Bunnage expressed that in the 60s, moms looked after children more closely, and children were disciplined at home and at school. This resulted in more respect and less leniency for teens to look into things that they were not supposed to. The 70s and 80s resulted in more working women and less parents to look after children and teens at home. This resulted in schools having to do more parenting. This led to more general classes ranging from basic achademia, nutrition, and sex education.

The 90s and 2000s gave birth to the computer and technology era. Teens became more distracted with technology and started turning to technology for information instead of towards schools and parents. In the 2000s it became nearly impossible to block teens from media and technology. Bunnage said that teens were beginning to lose trust and respect for their parents due to their lack of involvement and interaction with each other.

 

Bunnage also stated that there is no “right” or “set” time for teens or even younger children, to start learning about sex. Children have questions and as long an answers are age appropriate throughout the years then things should be safe. This will also make them comfortable to ask questions as they continue to grow and develop.

The takeaway is that parents just need to start talking to their teens about sex. Yes, it can be an awkward subject, but it is better that the information comes from a controlled source.  Schools are educational, but there is only so much they talk to students about. Parents need to take the initiative to get involved and provoke more questions about sex in a safe and comfortable space.