You want your children to be safe and healthy. Talking about sex and relationships with your children as they grow up can help them look after their sexual health when they start having sex.
Children and teenagers need to know how to deal with relationships and sexual feelings. Teenagers may see images of sex in films, magazines, adverts, television and the internet but that does not mean they know the facts. They may be receiving confusing or inaccurate messages so it is best to make sure they get the right information and you are the best person to help them. If they don’t get information from you, they may get it from less reliable sources.
Research has shown that young people want their parents or carers to talk to them about sexual matters.
Evidence shows that if you talk openly and honestly, young people are more likely to delay having sex and to use contraception when they do. It helps them make decisions about sex and relationships and you can establish trust around the subject.
Although it is best to begin answering questions from the time your children are toddlers, it is never too late to begin. Talking will help you establish a trusting relationship that will continue into your children’s adult life.
Children don’t only need to know the biology of “facts of life” they need to learn about values, emotions and relationships. This will happen gradually.
As they grow up, your child needs to learn
- How and why his or her body is developing.
- What you think about sexual issues and what moral values or ethical standards you hold.
- Not to let anyone talk them into doing anything they don’t want to do.
- About sexual expression, conception and pregnancy.
- About contraception.
- About HIV and other infections and how to prevent them.
- About considering other peoples feelings, and acting with integrity in relationships
Only you can tell your children your family’s values concerning sex. This is your right and responsibility as a parent.
WHAT IF YOU AREN’T TOO SURE OF ALL THE FACTS YOURSELF?
Sex is a large topic and covers how our bodies work, pregnancy, relationships and feelings, contraception and STIs. There are lots of ways to get information but your local library is a good place to start. They have books written for young people at different ages which you could look through before discussing it with your child. You can read a useful leaflet called Talk About It which details some books that you may find useful.
If you are talking to your child and you don’t know the answer to a question, say so, and offer to find out.
You can also get information from the Ayrshire and Arran Health Board Health Information Resource Service based within Afton House, Ailsa Hospital, Dalmellington Road in Ayr.
BUT I FEEL TOO EMBARRASSED…
Children learn from what parents do and don’t say and do. If you never talk about sexual matters your child will learn that this is a subject that can’t be discussed and may not feel able to ask you questions.
This is such an important area that you need to be brave!
However you bring up the topic of sex and relationships, listen to what your child has to say.
Start with less tricky areas, maybe using a storyline in a television programme or a celebrity in a magazine to start talking about relationships and other people’s feelings. Talking about other people is often easier! Ask what they think about the situation and give your opinion.
A classic difficult issue is masturbation
The facts are that masturbation is a common activity for boys and girls and it causes no physical or mental harm. It only becomes a problem when it is practiced in inappropriate places or accompanied by strong feelings of guilt or fear. Even if you have objections to masturbation, try to let your child know that it is normal and natural to be interested in exploring your own body and that the body can be a source of pleasure. Explain that some behaviour is OK in public and some behaviour is only OK in private. Then you can go on to explain your own values. Try not to use shame or guilt. This is far more likely to produce fear and confusion than change behaviour.
Let your child know you love them and always will, even if you don’t agree with their opinion, or don’t like their behaviour. Teenagers especially respect an open, non-judgemental manner. Respect their privacy – tell them you don’t tell other people their secrets. Try to stay calm even when they wind you up.
Don’t tease or embarrass them – they’ll avoid the subject in future.
Don’t jump to conclusions. If your child asks about contraception, it doesn’t mean they’re already having sex they may just be curious. Answer with facts and say a bit about your own values concerning contraception.
Eliminate distractions. Switch off the television and ignore mobile phones. Pay attention to what your child is saying. Shut off any distractions and make eye contact. If the time is inconvenient for either of you, arrange an alternative time to talk.
Clarify what you’ve heard to avoid misunderstanding. The best way to clarify is to briefly summarize in your own words what you think your child is saying.
Don’t interrupt. Listening without interrupting lets your child know you want to know what they are thinking. Besides, interrupting shows a lack of respect.
Use “I” statements. Start your sentences with “I” or “I feel” instead of with “you.” Starting a sentence with “you” is likely to put your child on the defensive because is sounds accusatory or threatening. For example, say “I’m concerned that you and Jason are so involved that you’ll get careless and get pregnant.” Don’t tell her, “You’re getting too involved with Jason.”
Clearly state what you want. It’s more effective than stating what you don’t want. For example, say “I want you home by 11:00.” Don’t say, “I don’t want you staying out late.”
Avoid using “absolutes” when in any kind of disagreement. Words like “always,” “never,” “every time” and “whenever” drag up the past. Sticking to the present usually results in more effective communication.
It is often hard to accept that a child is growing up and becoming sexually aware, and may be behaving in ways that you don’t like or disappoint you.
Don’t give up if things don’t go according to plan. The important thing is that you’re making the effort. No one gets it right all the time, and your child will appreciate that you have tried, even if they don’t let you know this.
Talk to other parents and see if they have any ideas on dealing with tricky questions and issues. There are plenty of websites and leaflets available where you can look up information and share. You could even do this together.
You can download Health Scotland’s booklets by clicking on the links below which are aimed at parents: