- Reflect -
At the heart of difficult conversations of this type is a fear of confrontation, the worry that your truth will not be acknowledged and a desire for reparation. This difficult conversation was borne from a commercial exchange.
Family life is also peppered with tricky conversations and, though they are of a different ilk, they may carry the same stomach dread. It is not that parents think these chats are unimportant. It is just that most of us have no clue how to initiate them, how our children might react, or how we should respond when they ask insightful questions.
We entered the real nuts and bolts of how babies are made this week, in anticipation of an upcoming school science test. I felt the knot of dread in my stomach grow as my once innocent cherub articulated every conceivable question in his head (excuse the pun). “But how do you know where things go?” was surely one of his best. His observation that mummies and plants both have ovaries needed some explaining, as did the fact that parents don’t only enjoy special cuddles when they want to make babies!
- Motivate -
I recall Michelle Obama’s autobiography, where she recounts how her father made a point of telling her that sex is, and should be, fun. This is a good message! Other critical messages that need to be conveyed (over time) relate to consent. Younger children need to know that certain areas of their bodies have boundaries (follow the NSPCC PANTS campaign advice). For older children and teens, the best way to convey how consent works is contained in the now famous YouTube video about tea.
Beyond that, all teens need to have chats with you about sexting, healthy versus unhealthy relationships, peer pressure and how pornography can affect the teen brain. These will never be easy chats and at times you may feel that you are walking in quicksand. But the research evidence is stark.
Children who live in homes with access to this kind of family talk will not be the teens indulging in risky sexual behaviour later on. Quite the opposite. Never be afraid that talking will make them more prone to doing. Never be fearful of mentioning something in case they go and look it up later. We need to be on the front foot, now more than ever.
I promise you that, on some level, they will be relieved that they can talk to you about these things and you in turn, will be amazed (and perhaps taken aback) by how much they already know. Whatever they say and whatever happens, stay calm. Do not look shocked, disgusted or upset by what they ask you. Be aware of what facial expressions you make. In years to come, they will remember how warm, understanding and positive you were.
- Support -
If you are wondering when the right time is for these chats, don’t focus on formality. It might be that you mention something that you read breezily over dinner, or that you chat whilst you are cycling along together, enjoying a board game or playing crazy golf.
Choose a moment when they are relaxed and happy. Perhaps use a current event, something you’ve watched together on TV, or something that’s happened to a celebrity to spark discussion. Be curious, non-judgemental and listen carefully to anything they have to say.
Ask open questions that encourage your child to think about tricky issues. ‘What do you think makes a good relationship?’ ‘What do you think you’d do if someone asked you to do something that made you feel uncomfortable or that you weren’t sure about? Has this ever happened to you, or a friend?’
Some self-disclosure can help too. Chats about first kisses and how it all went horribly wrong, or right, can set the tone for open and honest conversations about relationships moving forward.
- Is Your School Tooled Up? -
If you belong to a school that has subscribed to my digital library of resources, Tooled Up Education, then don’t miss newly added resources on tricky topics like ‘sexting’.
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Have a great week.