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Hinsdale, Illinois |

Published April 16, 2009                                                         

Openness crucial when talking sex with kids

Experts say sex talks need to begin sooner and evolve over time
as children get more pressure

  By Christine Cuthbert

   The idea of talking with children about sex and teen pregnancy is enough to send many parents into an uncontrollable sweat. Discussing the science of it — and at the same time addressing the moral ramifications and possible outcomes of engaging in sexual acts — can seem overwhelming.
   But with one in four high school girls becoming pregnant by their senior year and one out of five middle school students engaging in oral sex before their freshman year, now is not the time to pretend the activity is not happening. Barb Barrett, a health educator at the Robert Crown Center in Hinsdale, said in today’s society, with peer pressures on children mounting, it’s more important than ever to have an open dialogue with kids regarding sexual behavior and teen pregnancy.

Q: What is an appropriate age to start talking with your children about sex?

A: I would recommend starting to discuss it at 6 years old. A lot of parents say they’re going to talk with their kids about sex, but it has to also be about values and their character. It can’t just be about sex because that’s when it becomes alienated. Talking with your kids about sex is an evolving process that can become more in-depth as they grow older and the topics are age appropriate. I would say you can get into the nitty gritty information around age 10.

Q: How can parents know what’s appropriate to discuss at what ages?

A: It has to cater to the child’s needs. Some children are going to be ready to learn more at a different age than others. Basically you’ve got to find out what they’re curious about. As they get into their junior high and teen years, we have to give them more information than what they request because there is more out there than they’re willing to know.

Q: Why is it important for information on sex to come from parents?

A: Parents are the most influential factors with teens. Parents don’t think so — they think peers have more of an influence. But in studies, children have said 37 percent of their influence comes from parents and only 33 from their peers. Ninety percent of students said they feel they would make better choices if they had open communication with their parents about sex, but most parents say they’re uncomfortable discussing it. Only one-third of children surveyed said they have had discussions with their parents.

Q: How can parents become more comfortable with the subject of sex and pregnancy?

A: I think parents just need to be really honest, and if they’re uncomfortable, tell their kids that. They can say, “This is not easy for me to discuss” and kids will be empathetic about that. I have found talking to your kids while in the car is a good way to go about it. You don’t have to have the serious eye contact. It takes off the pressure, and the kids can’t run away from the conversation. I also tell parents a good time to talk to them is late at night. They’re calmer and they don’t have outside things coming at them.

Q: If you suspect your child is engaging in sexual activity, how do you bring it up?

A: They should try to ask about it in a non threatening manner. Saying, “I think you’re having sex” is not going to go the right way. You could say something along the lines of, “I feel like at your high school or junior high kids are becoming more sexually active and I’m concerned for you.” Parents need to do a lot of listening and a lot less judging, and that’s hard. Kids appreciate a degree of honesty.

 Q: What should a parent do if their child comes to them and says he or she is having sex?

A: It really depends on their family morals and values, but we try to give students objective information. We talk bluntly about teen pregnancy. Seventy-five percent of girls who get pregnant in high school will not graduate, and most teen moms will be on welfare within five years.

Q: Often times teens will think, “That won’t happen to me.” How do you get them to see they’re not invincible?

A: First, I tell them, “This isn’t your fault. At your age your brain is working in this way right now. It makes you feel like you’re immortal.” But then I’ll point to them and say one out of the four of you will get a sexually transmitted disease. Kids today are under a huge amount of pressure. The only thing they’re being pressured to engage in more than sex is drinking. Even if you think you have the perfect child that isn’t partaking in sexual activity, it’s still crucial to talk with them about sex because it’s happening all around them.

Q: Should the sex talk be a one-time thing?

A: No, it should be ongoing. Parents should look for opportunities to discuss it. Maybe you’re watching TV or the news and something comes up about it. Take that opportunity and say, “So what do you think about that?” And it’s never too early to start.

   Many middle school kids are engaging in oral sex. Some are doing it to fit in, and some think it’s a way of putting off going further. They don’t realize they can catch an STD from it. Two-thirds of high school grads have said they regret sexual experiences they’ve had. Everyone falls to pressures. This effects every demographic.


       Making a Difference is a yearlong partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, which works
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and safe lives.



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