Helping Parents Give “The Talk”

Date: September 28th, 2016

Jennifer Salerno
Guest Blog Post by Dr. Jennifer Salerno

Whether it’s over sharing, over scripting, over emotional, over the top, or the good ol’ fashioned banana demonstration, parents aren’t always the smoothest when it comes to talking with their teen about sex.

Parents need concrete, actionable strategies to help them navigate “the talk.” Studies show that if adolescents think through and plan for risky situations they are more likely to make safer decisions. Teen Speak provides a detailed road map on how to have genuine conversations about sex, using real-world examples of adolescent-parent interactions and sample responses to common scenarios to support positive change and safer decision-making.

Here are some actionable ways parents and other adults can facilitate safer sex planning:

Consider this scenario: A young person has made the decision to wait to have sex and is now in a romantic relationship…

  • Start with an empathetic statement that includes a reminder of their planned behavior: “It can be hard to wait to have sex when you are in a relationship, and I know you are committed to doing that.
  • Let them respond. You might need to allow a few seconds of silence for the young person to process what you just said.
  • Then follow-up with a question like, “What do you need in order to keep this commitment to yourself?” Challenging them to think through the steps in order to maintain or change a behavior is key.
  • Listen to what they say, and offer suggestions they may not have thought about: “Those are good ideas. Can I share some other things for you to think about?” Asking permission gives them a sense of control over the discussion and a feeling of respect that you are talking with them and not at them.
  • Follow-up by sharing ideas they may not have considered like:
    • Avoid being alone in a house with your romantic partner by inviting others to be there too.
    • Talk with your partner about your decision to wait, so you are both on the same page.
    • Think through and practice ways to respond if your partner is pressuring you to have sex.

The sex talk doesn’t have to be dreaded by parents or teens. Having the tools to navigate conversations and the common goal of safer behaviors puts parents on the right course to supporting their teens. As a helpful tool, feel free to share this infographic (click on the link or on the image to the right to enlarge) with parents who need advice on giving “the talk”.

Real Life: Putting New Strategies into Practice

A few nights ago, my 16-year-old teen came into my room and told me that she believed she was pregnant. I could tell she was steeling herself for my reaction. I was more than half way through reading Teen Speak, and I am so grateful for this timing. In a micro-second I felt panic, disappointment, and truthfully (and selfishly), a sense of personal failure and embarrassment (i.e., “What will my friends think of my parenting skills when they find out my 16-year-old daughter is pregnant?”) Thankfully, with the strategies from the book fresh in my mind, I calmly asked my daughter if she would like to take a pregnancy test to know for sure. She was not pregnant, but the event provided an excellent opportunity to have a very honest conversation about her risk behaviors and preventive measures she was interested in pursuing. I truly believe how I reacted in that moment, utilizing strategies from the book, allowed my daughter to see I was someone she could trust and open up to for more frequent and honest conversation in the future about sexual health and much more!

If you’re a professional working with teens and their families, how can you support parents in talking about sex?

Parents, how are you helping your teen plan for risky situations?

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer Salerno is founder and CEO of Possibilities for Change and author of Teen Speak.

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