This is part of an ongoing series written by Steven Ing, MA, MFT, addressing how parents can engage in a healthy conversation with their children about intelligent human sexuality.
After reading Part 1 and Part 2, you’re now sharing with your kids issues pertaining to sexuality that you find in the newspaper or some other media outlet: gender equality, equal pay, marriage equality, who should use what bathroom, rising rates of STIs, abortion laws and so on. No one’s called the police on you (yet — yay you!) and because you’re relaxed, your voice is starting to sound like you actually did go through puberty. You sound mellow. Resonant. Confident.
And then one of the Adorable Ones says something like, “Susan at school told me she’s already had an abortion.” Or, “Mom, have you ever had a sexually transmitted disease?” Or, “Whatever you think about abortion is wrong and I think the opposite.”
Well, (*sigh*), no one ever said these conversations would be easy. Your uneasiness and your figuring out what to do about it is actually part of the education you’re trying to give your children. And this brings us to the oft misunderstood subject of boundaries.
Boundaries are the lines in the sand that define yours vs. mine. Setting boundaries in sexual situations (including conversations) is part of what children want to learn. Learning when to set boundaries and how to defend them when people disregard them is another. With that said, here’s what not to say: “You shouldn’t be thinking about stuff like that!” Instead, if your child is bringing up a topic that’s uncomfortable but not actually about you, then borrow a page from your local Marriage & Family Therapist and ask them, “So, when she told you that, how did it make you feel?”
Are you showing them that processing emotions is part of talking about sexuality? Yes. Are you giving them an opportunity to verbally explore their own feelings before you weigh in? Yes. And, by the way, you’re also giving yourself some time to compose yourself after hearing a question for which you feel entirely unprepared.
A personal question that you’re not ready to discuss should be modeled in a manner that alerts them to the presence of a personal boundary: “Whoa! I’m not getting into my personal life just now.” (Don’t forget to smile when you say that.) Your children need to learn how to handle conversations just like that, and that’s what we mean by setting and defending a boundary.
And in response to the teenager who won’t agree with you no matter what (in their never-ending effort to drive you crazy): Ask for more information, as in, “Wow. I had no idea you felt that way. That is so interesting. When did you first make up your mind about that?”
Our goal here? We’re teaching our children how to talk about sexual matters in an intelligent way that makes for a safe conversation — an intimate conversation where two people can safely share their ideas with one another. Teaching a child how to be safe with potentially scary stuff and to do it intelligently is the best gift a parent can give.
Interested in learning more about “the talk”? Attend our upcoming free session, “The Birds. The Bees. The Talk(s).” RSVP here or by clicking the image below!
Steven Ing, MA, MFT, is a northern Nevada-based behavioral therapist whose practice is focused on helping clients understand how to manage sexuality intelligently. For more information, visit StevenIng.com.