raising teens and tweens

What Parents Fear Most About The Sex Talk (And How To Overcome It)

Written on October 12, 2012 at 1:04 pm , by

 

John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex.

Most parents treat the topic of sex as if it were nitroglycerin: acting like one wrong move means everything will explode! So it’s no surprise that they absolutely dread having those conversations with their kid. In the “Sex Talk” survey Family Circle and Planned Parenthood conducted and reported on this November, they found that more than 70% of parents wait until their child is 11 or older to talk about any topics related to sexuality. And even when they do chat with their kids, it’s not very frequent. In a survey of over 45,000 parents and children of divorce that I’m conducting on Dr. Phil’s website, parents frequently reported that they spoke with their kids about sex; however, most kids disclosed that they don’t recall any such conversations.

Why the anxiety? Parents reveal that their reluctance to talk about sex with their kids stem from embarrassment about their own experiences that tap into their own associations and baggage with sex. They also worry that they will convey wrong information or that merely raising the topic will encourage their child to engage in sexual acts. Parents need to distinguish between their concerns about sex and the needs of their child at the various stages of the child’s growth.

Studies show that parents who discuss sex in a loving and honest way actually decrease the likelihood that their child will engage in sexual activity. In fact, kids who share a good relationship with their parents and can honestly discuss their concerns about sex, dating, and love are less influenced by peer behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and sex and report less depression and anxiety and more self-reliance and self-esteem. These kids are also more successful in school and develop more meaningful relationships. Such studies confirm that the quality and importance of our communications at home strongly influences our children’s life.

Remember: You don’t have to pretend that you know it all. If you’re natural about any uncertainty yet show that you are willing to learn as you go along, you set the stage for an honest relationship with your child. Providing accurate information and details is important, however, it’s more critical to express interest, support, and openness and respond to your child’s needs.

Parents need to demystify sex and guide their kids to manage the physical aspects of sexuality and support their children’s emotional, social, relational and spiritual sexual growth. We need to help our kids make the connections between intimacy and love and understand healthy relationships. If we don’t take effective action to communicate with our kids, they can’t be expected to make effective decisions—and they will go elsewhere to find answers.

Parents go to extraordinary lengths to nurture, strengthen and support their kids—academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. It’s not okay to leave your child to fend for himself regarding his or her sexual development. Parents need to reclaim their role as their child’s guide concerning sex. By communicating with our kids, in an age appropriate manner, from infancy through adolescence about sex, we will come through for them on concerns when our children need us most.

John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex, which clarifies what kids need at each stage of development and how parents can effectively communicate. For more information, go to drchirban.com and sexualproblems.com.

Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.

Teach Your Teens to Say No–or Yes–to Sex

Written on October 9, 2012 at 4:31 pm , by

Deborah Roffman, author of Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your kids’ Go-To Person about Sex, shares advice for parents and “the sex talk” for Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month.

If you define the word “sex” the way most Americans define it, the title of this blog might seem pretty controversial. Perhaps even misguided. Educating teens to say “Yes to sexual intercourse? Why would a parent want to do that?

In my experience as a parent educator for more than 30 years, most parents definitely prefer that their children postpone potentially risky sexual behaviors until they are mature enough to manage the physical, social and emotional aspects of deeply intimate relationships. (There are other parents who prefer that their children postpone these behaviors until they are married or in a long term committed relationship, no matter their level of maturity.)

But the thing is, the kinds of sexual experiences teens engage in run the gamut from kissing to French kissing to hugging to touching breasts or genitals to more intimate and potentially riskier behaviors like oral sex or vaginal intercourse. These are all forms of sexual behavior, and engaging in any one of them constitutes being “sexually active.”

Unfortunately, when adults use phrases like “sexually active” as the equivalent of “having intercourse,” as most Americans do, we imply to kids that these other forms of sexual behavior don’t really count and don’t require careful decision-making.

Each of the behaviors along this continuum represents a real yes or no choice, regardless of the particular behavior involved, and many if not most of our kids will eventually find themselves in situations where they’ll need to make decisions about participating, or not, in one or more of them. Moreover, many parents might even consider some of these experiences during the teen years to be a healthy and normal part of growing up.

So, indeed, most parents don’t want their children to always say “no” to all sexual experiences. Giving our children guidance about good decision making means giving them the tools to know how and when it might be okay to say yes to a particular sexual experience, and under what circumstances it would probably, or definitely, be best for them to say no. That means talking with them about a host of issues, including relationships, pressures, values, motivation, communication, mutuality, consent, caring, empathy and respect for boundaries, our own and others’.

If we wait to begin these conversations until the point in time when our children might be contemplating engaging in sexual intercourse, we’ll have missed out on lots of opportunities to teach them how to make good sexual decisions, regardless of whether they’re going to say yes or no.

Read more about having “the sex talk” with your teen here.

Deborah Roffman

Deborah Roffman is a teacher, parent educator and author who has given hundreds of presentations for parent groups across the country. Her most recent book is Talk To Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your kids’ Go-To Person about Sex. Her website is Talk2MeFirst.com. Read more of her advice on talking to teens about sex in our November feature, “How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen.”


How to Avoid the Bait When Your Kid Picks a Fight with You

Written on May 23, 2012 at 1:03 pm , by

 

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Elijah, my 11-year-old son, woke up this morning determined to pick a fight with me. I know I should have been more mature, but I totally fell into his trap. In my defense, it was a challenging situation. I’d just walked by the dryer and realized that he had put a pair of dirty underwear and socks inside to “clean” them.

So I may have said something like this: “Did you really put your dirty underwear and socks in the dryer without washing them first?” I also probably rolled my eyes as I was talking.

Elijah, of course, rolled his eyes in response (don’t know where he got that from) and declared, “Mooooom, I don’t have any clean clothes. I’ve looked evvverrrywhere.”

“Elijah, do you see the two laundry baskets at your feet?”

He glanced down and instantly came back with a classic defense: “But none of those clothes fit!”

From there our conversation deteriorated into a full-blown fight about his refusal to wear anything but gym clothes to school, while the problem of no clean underwear wasn’t being solved and it was 7:25. That meant he had 20 minutes to eat breakfast, feed the dog and sit on the couch reading a book while one or both of his parents yelled at him to get himself together.

I was really irritated.

Let me explain myself. I don’t expect either of my sons to wear uncomfortable clothes like a suit and tie to school—which Elijah accused me of when we argued. I don’t like wearing tight, scratchy clothes either. I only buy soft clothes for my sons that they approve of first because I don’t want to spend money on clothes they aren’t going to wear. So I have very limited patience when my son is moaning about how horrible it is to wear soft linen pants and collared cotton shirts.

This also isn’t a personal style thing where I’m forcing him to look a particular way. If he wanted to wear black skinny jeans with a weird geometric patterned shirt, I’d be totally fine with that. If he wanted to gel his hair so it stuck out, that’d be fine too.

But in the midst of my annoyance I had a parenting epiphany that immediately turned the tables on him.

“You know, Elijah, I really want to continue this argument but we can’t do it now. So let’s schedule this fight for later today when you get back from school, and we’ll have all the time we need. How about I meet you back here around 8 p.m. after dinner? Then you can show me how wrong I am, how horrible your clothes are and how none of them fit you.” I handed him some clean underwear from the laundry basket at his feet and went downstairs.

Scheduling the argument for later worked wonderfully. As promised, I walked into his room around eight that night and said, “You ready to continue our disagreement? Because now we have the time to fully resolve this issue.”

“Yes! Because I’m so right.”

“You’re going to have to prove that to me, because I spent a lot of money on those clothes and you agreed to them.”

“But that was only to wear once for that wedding in July we had to go!”

“The agreement for our argument was that you had to prove it to me. Put the clothes on.”

The clothes fit beautifully and they were comfortable. Even he had to admit it—not by actually saying so out loud, of course, but just the opposite. He didn’t say a word. Now my challenge was to not leap up in a victory dance, saying, “I told you so” or “You look so handsome in these clothes!”

All I said was “Thanks for trying them on.”

This is what I’m taking away from my experience: Don’t let your children put you in a bad mood, especially at the beginning of the day when you don’t have the time.  If you catch yourself, solve the immediate problem and then schedule a time in the near future to discuss the overall problem.

Don’t wonder if your child is blind because he can’t see things right in front of his face. He can’t. Unless he really needs them to go out with his friends or play a video game.

And in a situation where you’re shown to be correct, don’t rub it in. The clean clothes are the reward.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

Saying “No” to Your Kids’ Material Demands

Written on April 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm , by

 

By Stacey L. Bradford

Recently my daughter begged me for an American Girl doll. Fortunately, a simple no was all it took to end the discussion. But I realize in a few years it won’t be so easy to deny her, particularly when the new toy or gadget is something all her friends have. What’s funny is that I always thought if I gave her enough love she’d never compare herself to other people. Boy was I naive.

In fact, kids are neurologically hardwired to crave the same stuff as their peers. “As tweens approach middle school, they passionately seek acceptance from friends,” says Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., author of The Blessing of a B-Minus. It doesn’t take long for them to realize that one way to fit in is to dress like everyone else. “That explains their ‘need’ for the right stuff,” Mogel says.

While I don’t want to impact my daughter’s social life—and I cringe at the thought of consumerism playing a role—I do hope to safeguard her from irresponsible spending decisions using this approach.

1. Define Your Values: Parents should outline their family’s values with their kids, says Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., author of When Your Teenager Becomes the Stranger in Your House. Draft a mission statement and try to live by its principles. Jantz’s family’s statement, for example, includes having a strong work ethic. So when his boys requested a Nintendo DS system, he reminded them of their family’s commitment to hard work and asked how they -intended to earn it. “Simply telling teens they can’t have something doesn’t work,” Jantz says. “You’re dealing with constant comparisons to their friends.”

And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those friends’ parents may believe in a different set of principles than you do. In other words, they give their kids just about anything. The best way to counteract that is to refrain from criticizing them in front of your kid, says Jantz. Instead, explain that every family has its own rules and you are doing what you think is best.

2. Set Limits: It’s also necessary to create and enforce financial limits, says Mogel. This teaches kids that there are restrictions on how much your family can afford. Implement a spending cap of, say, $200 for a back-to-school wardrobe and ask your teen for input on how she would like to allocate it. And under no circumstances should you apologize for setting a budget.

3. Empower Through Earning: There will be times when your kids’ desires exceed their limits, or when they’ll want something you cannot afford. As long as the product doesn’t go against your values, help your kid come up with a plan to purchase it. For example, if your son wants a reasonably priced digital camera, assign him some extra projects around the house. By earning small amounts of money over time, he can save up to buy the camera himself—and he’ll probably appreciate it more if he’s forking over his own cash.

4. Retain Veto Power: Remember that you always have the right to say no, whether or not your family can afford something. You don’t have to justify your decision to not let your 13-year-old get an iPad—even if he saved up for it. Your job during these years is to send your kids off to college prepared to make smart, sensible spending choices on their own.

What have you refused to buy your kid? Share in the comments below.

Financial expert Stacey L. Bradford is an award-winning journalist and author. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy teaching her kids the value of a dollar.