“It might be easier if you talk to my teenagers and I talk to yours.” That’s where a chat with a good friend went when we realized our teenagers no longer wanted to discuss sex with us or their dads. Even though I have had pretty frank conversations with them in the past about emergency contraception, responses to street harassment, and grinding at dances, I understand that I’m not their only source of information. Most teenagers I know think that conversations at home, school health class, and with their friends are all they need. Maybe so, but I know my daughters forget things and don’t always have the most current information. Sometimes they are just plain wrong. And I’m sure they’ve never practiced telling someone they care about “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” Whatever that is—sex acts, drugs, drinking, or anything else.
Some of the complicated conversations I want someone to have with my kids:
- Medically accurate information about all available forms of birth control
- Knowing how to respond when a friend or potential partner oversteps their boundaries
- Deciding when is the right time to have sex
- Knowing how to freely say yes or no to anything involving your sexuality
- What to do or say if a friend has difficult questions or secrets they don’t feel comfortable keeping
- Knowing where to get good information and help—online or in-person
- Strategies for stepping in to help someone else
- Knowing the qualities of a healthy relationship and believing they deserve it
- Knowing how to talk to a friend about his or her relationship
I think teenagers want lots of chances to talk about these things. As a parent, your best bet may be to find the right person to initiate those conversations. Think about a terrific woman or man that you trust who could engage your teenager. It might be a relative, friend, or an educator from Planned Parenthood. You could set up one or several conversations with this trusted adult, add some food, a couple of your teenager’s close friends and leave for a few hours. I did this with my daughters. I know it was a success because one of my daughters said to me “we talked about a lot of things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with you.” I understood what she meant. With me, she has to worry about my judgment or if I’ll ask too many follow-up questions. This way, we can pick up the conversation whenever they want and I sleep a little better at night.