There were two, three-letter words that were off limits in our home. Well, more of a silent agreement than an explicit directive.
God and sex.
We went to church on Sundays, we just didn’t talk about God any other day. Based on results, there was sex at least twice (Exhibit A and B – my sister and I) but we didn’t talk about the birds and the bees either.
To my parent’s credit, studies show these are two of the most difficult conversations to have and I guarantee their parents didn’t have ‘the talk’ with them either.
Instead, my parents bought my sister and I a fantastically detailed and age-appropriate book, complete with illustrations, when we were around 10 years old. This book still lives in our family and effectively answered many of the ‘what’ questions as a budding science nerd.
It missed the ‘why’, ‘how’ and layers of emotional nuance found in relationships, not the pages of a book.
Talking about sex doesn’t condone it with a free pass for promiscuity or experimentation. Studies show that comprehensive sexuality education programs reduce the rates of sexual activity, sexual risk behaviors (eg, number of partners and unprotected intercourse), STIs, and adolescent pregnancy.
So if you research and buy a factual, colorful book to provide the facts and rely on the school system to fill in the messy Q&A, why do you need to broach this skin crawling, you’d rather do ANYTHING else, uncomfortable conversation?
Consider the source.
Your teen is growing up in the first generation to turn to each other for information and advice about key life challenges and questions. Is that where you want your teen to learn about intimate details about themselves and physical relationships?
Awkward barely begins to describe it.
I’d say it was more a mix between a hot flash (my pits spontaneously started sweating while my face got flushed), dry mouth, racing mind, and deer in the headlights while putting on my best ‘cool as a cucumber’ facial expression and body language. Most times I just sat and answered questions or listened as our boys did most of the talking.
Private conversations with each child is best, although broaching the topic at the dinner table by sharing your dating or first kiss stories keeps it light with uncomfortable laughter.
It’s not ONE conversation, it’s many over time. Some you initiate and some your teen will initiate. By showing your teen you’re an ally and safe person to talk to and ask really big or scary questions of, you build trust.
Normalize or ostracize.
Your silence says more than your words.
The more you normalize sexual development as a natural part of being human, the more accepted your teen feels by you, and themselves, creating a safe space to feel awkward, scared, and curious. This dramatically increases the odds your teen will turn to you for answers rather than crowd sourcing other teens on social platforms.
Sexual desires are normal too, not shameful. The desire itself is different than what your teen chooses to do with it. That’s where you come in by sharing your own experience of puberty, dating and physical intimacy, including what you learned and what you wished you’d known.
What about your values and beliefs?
Let me be clear – this is a conversation, not a lecture, with 2-way trust and respect. Let your teens know what you believe and why from a place of ownership, not condescension. Allow your teen to ask questions, even the pointed ones you don’t have an answer for. Better yet, ask your teen what they currently believe and listen without interruption.
The hardest part of this is understanding that just because you raised your teen doesn’t mean they’re going to hold the same beliefs and values as you. And no, you can’t control that through better boundaries and tighter consequences.
That’s exactly why the sooner this conversation starts and the more often you have it, the more opportunity you provide your teen to be informed and solidify their beliefs BEFORE the heat of the moment and that natural desire sweeps them away in a tidal wave of hormones.
What if it’s too late?
Your teen wants to know you love them, even if they fell short of what you wanted for them. Your teen longs for a relationship with you where they feel safe to talk about scary things. It’s never too late to create that.
If your teen is scared or in trouble, do you want to know or have them hide it from you, afraid of judgement and reproach?
Respect your teen’s privacy.
Your child’s sexual development isn’t conversational fodder for your bridge group, book club or family gathering over the holidays. Few things are more humiliating than Aunt Maggie asking your teen about what it’s like to become a woman or Uncle Phil inviting your son for a chin wag now that ‘he’s a man’. Sharing this sensitive and private information will destroy the trust you’ve worked hard to build with your teen.
These are tough conversations, especially if they weren’t modelled for you as a teen. That’s why I created The Empowered Parent Community – a safe and supportive place to get the answers you need, and encouragement to try new tools and strategies. We keep it real here, no faking it’s easy or pretending to be the perfect Instagram family.
Plus, I go LIVE twice each month for a deeper dive into comments and challenges (next one is Tuesday, November 23rd), providing resources and expert advice so you don’t feel so alone or at your wits end. Click below to join The Empowered Parent Community and get your first 30 days for FREE!