Maybe you’ve always meant to talk more with your kids about sex and dating, but kept putting it off. Now they’re teens or preteens and you know you need to open a conversation, but you don’t know where to start. How can you get beyond the wall of groans, eye-rolling, and “I know all that”?
One way is to start with information they don’t already know—because you’ve never told them, and they couldn’t have learned it at school or from friends. Tell them something about your own teen or preteen years, especially the things that were challenging for you.
There are lots of possible topics; here are some ideas about what you might share with your kid.
“When I was your age, it was hard for me…
“That I developed earlier/later than everyone else, and I felt so awkward.”
“That I had a huge crush on _____ and he/she didn’t even know I was alive.”
“Because I couldn’t stop thinking about sex and worried I might be some kind of freak.”
“Because I wasn’t at all interested in sex and worried I might be some kind of freak.”
“Because I was so nervous around boys/girls I could hardly speak.”
“That I was confused about things other kids were talking about but didn’t know who I could ask.”
“Because I felt ready to start dating and it was awful that people I wanted to date didn’t seem interested in me.”
“To know how to treat people well. Looking back, I see how hurtful my behavior must have been to the people I dated.”
“To talk with my partner about birth control and STI protection. I took some risks I shouldn’t have.”
“Because I was so self-conscious about my body. All I could see were my flaws.”
Why This Works
This approach to conversations works because:
It humanizes you. It reminds your teen that you actually were their age once, and things didn’t always go smoothly for you, and maybe, possibly, you might actually understand a little bit about what they’re going through.
It’s not lecture-y. You’re introducing topics related to bodies, sex, and dating, but you’re not implying you know more than your teen does. That makes them more likely to listen.
No response is required. Asking teens direct questions tends to make them shut down. Making a statement about your own experience invites them to talk or ask questions, but doesn’t push them.
It normalizes insecurities, questions, and emotional/relational challenges. If kids see only the curated, smiley-face version of their peers’ lives, they may think they’re the only ones who struggle with relationships and sexual feelings. Of course that’s not true; telling something about your own challenges brings that home.
Your willingness to be vulnerable makes it easier for your kids to be vulnerable with you. It’s hard for most teens to admit they need information or help from parents. Your taking a risk by talking about what was hard for you models how it can be done and increases the chances they’ll turn to you when they need guidance.