Talking the Talk
by Karen Platt
I feel like I’ve missed that “window of opportunity” to engage my 10-year-old daughter in a dialogue on puberty, sex, HIV/AIDS and birth control (to name a few). When she was younger, we talked about the basics—body parts, good touching, bad touching, that sort of thing—but since she’s gotten older, we’ve dropped the discussion completely. Do you have any suggestions to help get us talking again?
First of all, good for you for having discussed the “basics” with your daughter and being willing to continue the dialogue. Think of your earlier talks as setting the groundwork for all the fun yet to come. Of course, you may find at her age, your daughter is not so keen on chatting about such “gross” things with you, but you can bet she has lots of questions—and likely a lot of mis- or partial information.
Assuming your relationship is solid, it is rarely too late to initiate discussions with kids about anything. In other words, better late than never. It’s likely that if you’ve had an ongoing dialogue with your daughter about sexual matters, approaching the subject may be a bit easier for everyone than if menstruation is suddenly dropped into your dinner conversation. But, as you’ve determined, a hiatus from “the talk” does not mean a permanent vacation.
Fortunately or otherwise, we live in a world full of opportunities and “teachable moments.” A peek at any media will give you more than enough fuel to ignite the conversational fires. Watch and listen with her. Ask questions. Does she think the teen characters on TV are ready for sex? What is the difference between males and females in this music video? How about the lyrics to this song? What does she think about the model in this ad? Is Lindsay Lohan a good role model? Umm, a “yes” probably indicates the need for more discussion.
Look around. Conversation starters abound. Pregnant women. Gay couples. Bratz. What is she learning in school? If sex ed is on the curriculum, ask her about it—just like you would any other school subject. Books and websites can be tremendous resources (www.islandparent.ca has recommended links and books). Read together. Or, if she refuses, give her some books and then ask about what she’s read. Remember, you don’t need to be an expert. Check out websites together. Learn together.
It’s good you aren’t waiting for your daughter to ask questions. Lots of kids don’t. She is at an age where she needs solid information about a lot of things: puberty, body image, sexual orientation, reproduction and birth control, HIV and STIs (kids pick up a lot of information, much of it wrong and scary, from peers and media). Even if your daughter hasn’t hit full-blown puberty yet, some of her friends probably have and hers is on the horizon. Knowledge is empowering and liberating.
Do your homework, especially when it comes to thinking about your values and how you want to impart them to your child. Discuss values with your partner. They are the essential context. What do you hope for your daughter’s sexual future? The more you think about what you want to say, the better prepared you’ll be. Your daughter might not adopt your values, but they will certainly give her a basis from which to form her own. Research shows that children want and need to know what their parents believe.
Listen. Lots of interesting topics can arise from overheard conversations emanating from the backseat as you carpool the kids from soccer practice. The car can be a parent’s best friend. Hey, captive audience. No eye contact necessary. A haven in which all sorts of uncomfortable discussions routinely occur between parents and children. Take advantage of the opportunity.
Above all, remember that this is not one discussion; it is ongoing. You do not need to talk about everything your daughter needs to know about sex in a single trip home from the rec centre. The most important thing is that she knows the topic is not taboo and that you are “askable.”
Karen Platt, MA, is a sexual health educator who works with parents and youth. She is currently completing post-graduate studies in Sexual Health. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.