Dear Caring Parent,
“So, how do you know what’s going on in your kids inner world about sex”, asks the parent of tweens and teens. Great question! As you all know, kids are hearing about it and reacting to it at younger and younger ages. Some think about it more than others, so how do you know?
The bottom line at these ages is in the HOW you ask and talk about it. I was told by a Liberian woman that she notices that in Liberia, teens don’t experience the same angst as American teens. She went on to explain that teasing about teen life is very common, open, informative, and affectionate. You are attracted to someone, everyone knows and teases you. You break up and everyone gets together with you and bemoans it as well as cheers you on (even guys do this). You are getting a bit sexy looking, affectionate teasing occurs. You want to ‘do it’ and everyone talks it up and laughs and connects it to all the implications of it. The angst just doesn’t exist. Hard to imagine teen years without angst over sex!
This led to me thinking about what worked for me as a parent. Frankly, the topic emerged much before the tween years, as I imagine it does/did with your kids too. Then it was more about my daughter asking questions and me keeping the answers simple. When answers satisfied her, the conversation continued only when she had another question. This worked until sixth grade when kids simply joked and commented about sex more (it’s sooner now). And the titterings about ‘whose done what’ started to emerge.
I was fortunate. I would hear a lot as my daughter and her girlfriends had great after-school talk fests in our home. From that, it was easy for me to pick up, later on, about things. I also learned that being direct worked fine with her, as it will for some of you. But it doesn’t for many parents. So here are some questions and approaches that can help you, without asking directly about them and their thoughts/feelings about sex.
1. Ask, what are kids saying about….(name a cultural star involved in some kind of sex hoopla)?
2. Ask, what are your are classmates saying about boys, about girls?
3. Ask, what would an outer space being notice about how girls and boys behave with each other here on earth?
4. Find a funny joke about sex and just innocently tell it around your kids.
5. See a sexual word and make a deal out of it. (One morning I was driving a couple early high schoolers to school and we passed Dicks Sporting Goods. I just wondered out loud why anybody would name a store Dicks. Well, that got them going with laughter and commentary and questions).
6. Ask, what do you think boys/girls want from each other? Is it the same, different?
7. When your son or daughter is looking particularly wonderful, let them know! “Oh Moooommm/Daaaaddd”, they’ll say. But, we can let them know they have a little oooolala.
8. Tell them stories about the norms associated with boys and girls getting together when you were growing up. Trust me, you’ll hear about what’s up now.
9. Give them a pretend scenario, i.e. if you had a friend who was going out with someone who wanted to go past first base on a date, what would you advise them to do? Keep asking ‘what do they do if…’ kind of questions.
10. Use movies as an opportunity to bring up what’s different in real life than how it is portrayed in the movies.
Any of these can lead to knowing your sexually developing child, who is picking up on cues about sex from all over the place; your relationships, sitcoms, joking amongst friends, books, social media, porn (click here for my blog on kids and porn). It IS everywhere!
You probably will know by the tween years if your son/daughter is sexually bold or cautious, shy or eager, heart driven or head driven. With that in mind, pick your way into finding out what’s behind those bright eyes. It’s all about normalizing it for them, having a two way dialogue (on and on over time), setting your expectations positively, and keeping that openness. Openness is what reduces the negative effects of sex. But you and I know, it is one of the screwiest aspects of being human (ok, I couldn’t resist), so there can still be surprises.
If you have a question or method for opening the dialogue that worked for you, let us know in the comment section below. Or email me at ns@OMGparenting.com.
Take care now, Natasha