As a mom who tries each day to juggle work and family, I'm finding that when it comes to my middle school kids, I'm often late to the party. By that I mean by the time I think I need to talk to them about a life matter, and actually make the time to do it, they already seem to have a strong opinion on the subject.
So today, when a press release landed in my Inbox suggesting Valentine's Day is the perfect time to talk to your child about sex, my first reaction was "not a bad idea." It helps that Valentine's Day is on Sunday, a day when parents typically are home with their kids. Now, there's that issue of how to get the conversation started.
What is your child’s understanding of love, relationships, health, and sex? That's not an easy thing to assess. Recently, when I asked my son if he kisses his girlfriend at school he told me I'm being nosy. These days, it's his standard answer to almost anything I ask. I'm not even sure what having a girlfriend in middle school means but I don't want to wait until it's too late to find out.
“We don’t want to over-manage our children where sexuality is concerned,” says Laura Gauld, parenting expert and Head of Hyde Schools."But we want to give them a strong sense of values and a foundation of principles where sex is concerned."
Laura Gauld along with her husband, Malcolm, authored the book, The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. “I really liked their advice for talking to your kids about sex. Here's what they suggest:
1. Begin with a solid foundation of principles, a clear definition of what matters in our lives, as individuals and as a family.
“This is different from a set of rules,” says Laura. “Often we approach kids with do’s and don’ts, but they mean little without clear underlying principles. Sex is not a ‘don’t because it’s wrong; it’s a ‘be careful, because it is powerful and can change your life.’ We need to be clear about these things.”
2. Ask your children to describe what kind of person they are striving to become.
“If we give our children the opportunity to define what kind of person they want to be ---if we start when they are young, and help them to define the principles they can stand up for in order to get there --- they will stand equipped with the tools they need to face this challenging world,” says Laura.
“This is not the same as what they want to own, or what kind of college they want to attend, or what they can accomplish — this is about who they are,” adds Malcolm. “In the end, who we are matters more than what we can do. True self-esteem in teens comes from doing what they believe is important.”
3. Share examples from your own life.
Remember high school? Parents should share some of the moments when they were faced with tough decisions about being ‘cool’ or being true to themselves. It wasn’t easy then; it isn’t easier now.
“It is helpful for teens to learn that their parents went through the same tests among peers –- about drugs, sex, bullying, whatever,” says Laura. “Parents are an enormous resource, sharing what it takes to help our children ‘zig’ when their friends ‘zag,’ to say no when their friends say yes to things that can hurt them.”
Finally, the Gaulds urge parents to stand by their kids.
“Today’s teens are under a great deal of pressure, and they are presented with so many challenges and offerings that can easily lead them down a path of self-destruction,” says Malcolm. “Saying no to the things that can derail them is only part of it. They stand the risk of being unpopular among their peers for not participating. They will need your support that much more.”
Click here to hear more of Laura Gauld's parenting tips.
Wish me luck with my Valentine's Day talk!