Your children need your presence more than your presents. ~Jesse Jackson
October was Let’s Talk Month, a national public education campaign to increase effective parent-child communication about sex and healthy relationships. United Way of Greater Milwaukee distributed over 5,000 toolkits in Milwaukee to help parents prepare for and begin conversations. And despite what you might think and regardless of the eye-rolling that might ensue when you start the conversation the truth is this: kids want their parents to talk with them about sex and relationships. It’s true!
In fact, when asked who influences teens’ decisions about sex the most, half of adults cited teenagers’ friends as the main source. Far fewer teens agreed. Less than a third of teens (32 percent) said friends are most influential. Parents greatly overestimate the influence of peers and underestimate their own influence. Two decades of research makes it clear: parents matter when it comes to teens’ decisions about sex.
So now what?
“The Talk.” Is there a term that sends more shivers down a parent’s spine? Well, it gets worse. It turns out there is no such thing as “the talk.” Health experts say that what you really need to do (what your kids really need) is to have many, many talks over many, many years. So take a few deep breaths and relax. You can do this! You’re not alone. Parents admit they need help discussing sex with their kids, and teens agree. The vast majority of parents (82 percent) and two-thirds of teens (66 percent) agree that when it comes to talking about sex, parents often don’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to start the conversation. But we’re here to help!
United Way still has toolkits available upon request. These kits include conversation starters for parents and young people, information about the cost of having and raising a child, and a list of resources to help both parents and teens. United Way also has a website, www.babycanwait.com, with an entire section devoted to parents.
Let’s get real – this isn’t just about S-E-X. Growing up can be a whirlwind of emotions and hormones and ideas and questions. Kids will want to know why their bodies are doing strange things, or why they feel like they do. They are bombarded with images and messages from TV and the internet, and they often can’t determine fact from fiction. Kids have questions about violence and about things they heard from their friends. And they need to know that you are willing to talk with them about all of it.
Some of you may be thinking that your kids are too young to talk about this stuff. But guess what? If your child can talk, then your child can ask questions. And what’s really important is that even if you don’t know the answers, that you are willing to find them and share them. The sooner you establish yourself as an “askable” adult, the better. Because as painful, as awkward, as embarrassing as it might be, the alternative is much worse.
For more information about United Way of Greater Milwaukee’s work to prevent teen pregnancy, or to get a Let’s Talk parent-child communication toolkit, call 414-263-8116.
About the author: Nicole Angresano is the vice president of Community Impact at United Way of Greater Milwaukee . She earned a Masters in Public Health from the University of North Carolina, with a focus on teen risk behaviors and teen pregnancy prevention. She manages the United Way of Greater Milwaukee-led Teen Pregnancy Prevention Oversight Committee, which recently announced a third consecutive drop in teen births to the city’s lowest level in over 30 years.