Let’s be real. Having conversations about sex and relationships with your children can be awkward and uncomfortable. Maybe you remember squirming through talks with your parents and you’re nervous about getting it right with your children. That’s normal. Just remember, these talks matter.
October is "Let’s Talk Month" and "Domestic Violence Awareness Month" — the perfect time to make the connection between healthy sexuality and emotional, physical and sexual abuse in dating relationships.
Research shows that nine out of 10 teens say it would be easier for them to postpone sex and avoid pregnancy and STDs if they were able to have more open, honest conversations with their parents. And while one in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend, a majority of parents — 58 percent — could not correctly identify all the warning signs of abuse.
Many youth are afraid to tell friends or family about abuse with an intimate partner, including sexual abuse or coercion to engage in sexual activity they do not want. Without support, many of these relationships continue and will escalate in severity and frequency of abuse. In approximately one-third of domestic violence related arrests in Douglas County, the victim was under the age of 25.
This is where talking makes a difference. Engage youth in conversations about these issues in ways they can relate. Allow them to ask questions and be curious. As parents, we are the primary educators of our children, so it’s important that conversations cover vital topics like consent, healthy relationships and dating.
Here are some tips:
• Use door openers like, “That’s a good question,” or “Tell me more about what you know about that.” Avoid door closers like, “You’re too young to ask that.”
• Point out examples of healthy and unhealthy relationships and consent in the media.
• Believe young people and believe IN young people. They are more likely to come forward if we aren’t afraid to discuss sexuality.
• Teach youth to critically examine gender role stereotypes. Strict gender norms about what it means to be feminine or masculine have expectations that can contribute to sexual violence.
• Encourage relationships between your child and other trusted adults. Be that person for others. Youth need supportive adults in their lives.
Youth crave these conversations, even if they don’t act like it and even if the conversation can initially be difficult. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adults talk to youth as early as age 9 about sex. Children who are comfortable setting boundaries with how they are treated and with their body grow into teenagers and adults who are comfortable setting those same boundaries in their dating relationships.
As adults, it’s our responsibility to ensure all youth have access to age-appropriate and complete information — even if we have to step outside our comfort zone. A Family Communications Toolkit with additional resources is available at www.BirdsBeesandSTDs.com. You can learn more about warning signs of abuse in youth at www.loveisrespect.org.
Lisa Schulze is an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator. She is the Education & Training Coordinator with the Adolescent Health Project, a program of the Women’s Fund of Omaha. Christon MacTaggart is the Domestic and Sexual Violence Project Manager at the Women’s Fund of Omaha and works with community agencies to support survivors of abuse and hold offenders accountable.