In the last issue, Ate Anna wrote to a Pilipino Express (PE) reader, Karina, about the importance of parents talking to their children about sex and sexuality. Children have many questions and do want to hear what we think about this topic. If you haven’t started talking about it with your children, remember, it’s never too late! In this issue, you will find some communication tips for approaching this subject with your children.
To begin, Ate Anna would like to deal with the “fear” that many parents have. They worry that if they give their children information about sexuality they are encouraging them to have sex. This is not true. Many studies show that children who talk to their parents are more likely to postpone having sex. So, Karina, if you welcome your children’s questions and let them know that they can come to you to talk about this topic, you are keeping the door open for them. More important, you can take the opportunity to share your values and beliefs. Your children can use this information as a guide to help them make responsible choices.
It is common for children to feel embarrassed asking questions about their changing bodies. Parents may be uncomfortable talking to their children about “crushes,” dating, or sexual behaviours. We can acknowledge how we feel by saying, “This is an uncomfortable topic. I feel embarrassed and you might too. I guess it’s natural to feel this way and that’s okay. But it is important for us to talk about it.”
You don’t have to wait for your children to come and ask questions about sex and sexuality. Some children will never ask. Now you might be thinking, “How can I start a conversation with my children?” Asking them a question is a good way to begin. Here are some examples of questions that you might ask:
1. For younger children:
“Do you know the names of all your body parts?”
“Do you know why girls look different than boys?”
“Do you know where babies come from?”
2. For pre-teens:
“I notice your body has started going though some changes. What have you heard about the changes of puberty?”
“Have any of your friends started dating? What does having a girlfriend/boyfriend mean to you?”
3. For teens:
“At what age do you think a person is ready to have a sexual relationship? How does a person decide something like that?”
“When is a person ready to be a parent? What do you think?”
However, if you ask these questions in the wrong place or at the wrong time, it can be awkward. Children, especially teenaged children, may start wondering and ask, “Why do you want to know?” and get defensive, or they might casually avoid your question. This can shut down your attempt to start a conversation.
The good news is that life gives us many opportunities to bring up this topic with our children. For example, movies or shows that glamorize teenage pregnancy, song lyrics glorifying casual sex, a pregnant neighbour or friend, a favourite show that features a character going through puberty, the news broadcasting that the rate of HIV infection among youth is going up. These are all teachable moments. Karina, before you start a conversation with your children, you should also think about what messages you want to give them.
Remember, listening to your children is as important as giving your point of view, and sharing your family values. Use the two-way communication process and avoid giving lectures or using phrases like: “You should do this; you should feel this; I don’t care what your friends are doing;” or “You’re wrong. That’s a dumb thing to do.” These are all “door slammers” that close down the conversation. Asking your children, “What do you think?” is a good start. Be patient and listen to your children’s point of view, letting them speak without interruption or jumping to conclusions.
Good luck in having these important family conversations.
Ate Anna welcomes your question and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, 2nd floor, 555 Broadway, Winnipeg, MB.R3C OW4 or email: email@example.com