ARE YOU AN APPROACHABLE PARENT?
Wilma, 15 year old girl in form two wants to talk to her mother about something she discovered in her new school. Her bedmate, who happens to be a class ahead of her, has been waking her up in wee times of the night to ask for company in her bed. She later finds out that her bedmate is part of a naughty group in school practicing lesbianism. She is scared. She needs someone wiser to confide in and give advice. Her mum is not the first person that comes to mind. This is because this topic will bring an air of awkwardness between them. She is also not that free and open with her mother due to past experiences on how her mother handled such topics. Poor Wilma, she might end up on google, or get advice from other inappropriate sources.
Are you like Wilma’s mum? How sad is it that your daughter or son cannot approach you because they are afraid of you! Or because they have already assumed your reaction before they come you.
If your child does not already come to you with their emotional and relational concerns about friends and romance, it is likely that your child does not perceive you as an approachable parent. It could also be that your child is introverted, but because you only have control over your own behavior, let’s start there first.
Communicating About Sex
Sexual behavior is relational behavior. Sex primarily involves two people deciding to engage in some type of sexual behavior together. So, whether that means your child will be negotiating condom use with a short-term partner or negotiating satisfying sex with a long-term partner, learning how to comfortably initiate and execute sexual conversations is a life skill that is better mastered sooner rather than later.
Majority of research finds that parent-child communication about sexuality yields safer sexual behaviors in adolescents such as condom use, contraception use, and delayed onset of intercourse. Most likely because it increases efficacy in your child to take the necessary steps to prioritize their health. But it can be difficult to initiate conversations about sex. So, how does one get started? You start by listening to what your child is already saying and then you can start talking, once your child feels heard. Even if you have some embarrassing moments, even if you don’t have all the answers, even if you say something that is incorrect and need to correct yourself, your child is better off because you’re prioritizing listening over lecturing to her. If you are concerned that your child may be pregnant, may have gotten someone else pregnant, may have been sexually abused or assaulted, or may have sexually abused or assaulted someone else, you need to address your concerns immediately. You can access resources to do so here. If you do not have any of these concerns, you’re ready to prioritize ‘becoming approachable’.
WAYS TO TRY APPROACHABLE PARENTING
- Know your own perspective on sexuality
Are you comfortable talking about sex? Are you confident in your own sexuality? If not, practice sexual conversations with a partner, relative, or friend. If you waiver at all when you say these words or phrases: “Penis, vagina, vulva, testes, oral sex, anal sex, vaginal sex, or penetration,” you may lose some of your credibility. Like a shark to blood in the water, your kid will sniff this discomfort out so quickly, that he or she will do anything in his or her power to avoid such an awkward situation ever again.
- Act calm
Imagine you are watching a TV show with your child and there is a steamy sex scene between two characters who don’t know each other and obviously did not use a condom. Do not react. You may be sweating it, thinking, “This is a teachable moment! Oh crap. What am I supposed to teach here?” Instead, just breathe. After the show is over you can ask your child “What did you think about John having sex with that random girl?” Hopefully, your child will say something like, “I know! They barely knew each other!” or will give you some indicator of risk. But he or she will probably shrug and annoyingly say “I don’t know.” You can then respond with something like, “It just seemed so out of character for him, they barely knew each other.” And leave it at that. This doesn’t mean that you condone unprotected or uncommitted sex, it just conveys to your child that if these subjects arise, you will remain calm. Believe it or not, you just capitalized on a teachable moment by establishing yourself as approachable. You initiated a sexual conversation, and when your child responded to your question, you did not punish him for his opinion or lack thereof. After you’re sure your child perceives you as approachable you can go more into depth about safety when those moments arise.
Don’t focus on what you should be asking your child. For example, the worst way to start a conversation would be with either of these questions: “Are you having sex?’” or “Are you watching pornography on the internet?” Instead, focus on how you respond when your child is talking to you about any emotionally charged issue. This means nodding your head, saying “uh-huh”, or giving other verbal or non-verbal cues that you really are listening to understand, not listening just to respond. Research shows that mothers become more authoritative during sexual conversations, but you actually do not want to do this if you want to encourage an on-going dialogue about sexuality with your child.
- Do not Judge
If your daughter comes to you because she is afraid she is pregnant, tell her something like, “Wow. I am so glad you came to me about this. Although this is not easy for me to hear, I am more worried about you. How are you feeling about this?” Then try your best to assure your child you will be there every step of the way to manage the outcomes of her decisions. The worst way you could react is with judgment. “How could you do this?” or “You know this against our beliefs!” Now is not the time for that. Your job is to establish yourself as the safest place in this journey.
Talk about your own sexual experiences during adolescence in an age appropriate way. Research has shown that more maternal disclosure about sexual experiences is linked to adolescents’ more conservative views about pre-marital sex. If you were not sexually active in adolescence, talk about the pressure you felt to have sex or to remain abstinent.
- Use humor when possible
I wish sex was not embarrassing, but in our culture, it is. So, it is okay to laugh a little and to try to use humor when possible. Teen pregnancy, STIs, and sexual assault are serious issues, but dating, romance and sexual behavior are quite funny. If you step back and look at the big picture from the awkwardness and cultural customs, there is a lot of laughter to find in it all. Laughter will help you and your child both get comfortable about sex and the conversations can flow from there.