Today’s guest post is by Joanna Hyatt.
“Uh, Joanna, why don’t you and Macy sit over there and…um, well, just do your thing. You know, because I bought you coffee.”
I’m a sexpert. A sex expert. But not in the way you think. I don’t doll out tips to couples on how to make their marriage hot and steamy (I leave that to Sheila!). I instead get the world’s most hostile and simultaneously awkward audience: teenagers.
I go in to schools, churches, organizations, and any where there is a teen with questions about sex and dating, engaging them in open, honest, and hopefully thought-provoking conversations.
I had arranged to meet with this couple and their 15-year-old daughter for what I expected to be a routine talk about what I do as a way to indirectly bring up these topics in front of their daughter.
Instead, I found myself sitting across from a gangly teen girl who could hardly bring herself to make eye contact with me. It became clear in about 7 seconds that her parents had never initiated a conversation with her on these issues.
What these parents failed to see is that I’m actually not the most effective person for the job. Yes, teens will listen and open up to me in a way they don’t with most adults, and they’ve affectionately given me the title of “The Sex Lady.” But at the end of the day, there’s someone else who is going to influence these kids more than I will.
Yet I’m finding that too many parents either don’t realize this or don’t believe it. They’ve lost confidence in their ability to influence their child’s decisions about sex and relationships, in the strength of their voice being greater than the cacophony of culture pushing on their children. Parents have lost confidence in being able to direct their children towards better, healthier choices than they may have made as teens.In surveys of teens, they consistently cite their parents as the greatest influence when it comes to their decisions about sex, dating, and relationships. They say it would be easier to delay sexual activity if they could have more open and honest conversations with mom and dad. The relationship a girl has with her father can actually delay the onset of puberty, the onset of sexual activity, and impact the type of boys and men she will date.
Please hear this:
You and your voice matter to your teen, to your pre-teen, or that child about to enter puberty. More than you probably realize.
Here are three tips for maximizing that influence:
1. What you don’t say matters as much as what you do
In wanting to avoid fumbling over what we say or blurting out something awkward, we may err on saying nothing. But your silence sends a message loud and clear: you don’t care. By failing to explain your values when it comes to sex, dating, and relationships, you’re telling your child that they are free to form their own values. You are choosing to allow their friends, the media and the world around them to shape their decisions and opinions, rather than you.
No one else will love your child as much as you do. You’ll never say everything perfectly, but failing to say anything at all will only end up hurting your child in the end. Don’t allow fear to strip you of your right and privilege to be the greatest influence in your child’s life when it comes to sex, dating, and relationships.
2. You need to initiate the conversations
A number of my friends have this in common: when it came to conversations about sex, their parents handed them a book and said to ask them any questions they might have. Never once did those parents actually initiate a conversation on sex, or clarify what type of questions where allowed or appropriate.
You can tell your child they can talk to you about sex until you’re blue in the face. But unless you show them how serious you are by taking the first step, by initiating conversations and questions, they’ll likely remain closed off.
This doesn’t require anything as drastic as a three-hour road trip with your child. Use TV shows and magazines as a jumping off point to initiate conversations. Make clear what kind of questions and discussions they’re welcome to bring to you (Can they ask you about oral sex? Wet dreams? Asking/being asked out?), and reinforce that by regularly bringing those topics up yourself.
3. The first time will determine if you have a next time
No, that’s not some reference to sex with your spouse. It’s about the first time your child asks you a question about sex or relationships.
How you react will determine whether they feel safe to come to you again in the future, or resolve to never address this again. Whether they’re testing you to see if you really do want to be their go-to person, or they’re innocently asking about something they heard at school, your response must always be this:
Internally, you may be having a heart attack at what you’ve just heard. Perfectly understandable, as it still happens to me. But externally, your child needs to see that their question has not fazed you, that they haven’t asked something that is off limits or that mom and dad can’t handle. If you react with anger, with disgust, with shock, or embarrassment, you send the message loud and clear that this is not something for the two of you to discuss. They’ll continue to have questions but now they’ll go elsewhere for the answers.
Sex talks with your kids can and should be fun. Rather than holding back in fear, embrace them as opportunities for amazing conversations with your children. I’ve written a book, The Sex Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents, to help you begin (or hopefully continue!) to speak and engage confidently with your child in this area, experiencing together how rewarding “the talk” can be.
As a parent, you already have more credibility and influence than you realize. It’s just a matter of learning what to talk about and how to say it in a way that will most effectively resonate with that hormonal teen staring at you.
Based out of Los Angeles, Joanna Hyatt is a national speaker on dating, relationships and sex, and the author of The Sex Talk: A Survival Guide for Parents. She blogs at www.joannahyatt.com and tweets @JoannaHyatt.