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|Making Decisions About Sex, Drugs and Your Health|
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|Believe in Yourself|
Sexuality, pregnancy, contraception and STD/HIV impose a lot of questions and confusion for young people. While they are continuously bombarded with provocative messages that encourage sexual involvement in popular music, consumer product adverts and everyday slang among peers, they are at the same time confronted with other messages that warn of the dangers posed by teenage pregnancy and AIDS.
Parents, very often worry about this, but many find it difficult to talk openly with their children even though they know it is their responsibility. They worry that being open about sexuality with their children may be misinterpreted to mean that they permit sexual activity. Even when that is not the case, they worry about what information they should share and how much of it would be sensible to discuss with a teenager.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer - what you as a parent tell your child depends on the child's age, your own values, and what your child is ready to understand.
Even if you've made a commitment to openly discuss sexuality with your children, how can you make sure that your messages get through? The following are a few tips to improve your communication skills:
Be an "askable" parent
This means letting your children know that they will not be judged, teased or punished for asking questions about sexuality. It also means bringing up the subject yourself, because with teenage children, it is more likely that they won't ask you about sexuality due to the fear that parents will jump to conclusions about why they want the information.
Know the facts and be honest
Feeling comfortable with the subject matter is important so, you need to update yourself about the common sexuality concerns children have: menstrual periods, wet dreams, masturbation, the age when it's okay to have sex, how pregnancy can be prevented, sexually transmitted disease and AIDS etc. Also remember that it is alright to acknowledge that you don't know all the answers, as long as you offer to help them and follow up; your children will respect your honesty.
Seize natural opportunities to talk
Sexuality educators agree that you can turn television shows or news stories about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and related issues to "teachable moments" to discuss sexual issues e.g. during a show when a couple starts to kiss each other hungrily prior to having sex, you may begin by asking what your teenager thinks about the show.
You may want to point out that sexual intercourse without birth control and condoms is risky behavior and that in real-life situations, there might be serious consequences. This can open up a discussion on pregnancy prevention and transmission of STDs, including HIV the virus that causes AIDS.
Communicate your values
You can help your children understand the role of sexuality in their lives by telling them your own beliefs and values about sexual behavior. If you think they should wait until marriage to have sex, tell them so. But keep in mind that children will form their own standards of behavior, with or without your help.
The best way to communicate your values is by example. Parents who attempt to dictate how their children should behave are often surprised at how strongly their children rebel or reject parental values.
Encourage sexual responsibility
Encouraging sexual responsibility is more than saying "wait until marriage". Although adolescents are in dire need of information about birth control and STDs they also need to learn about the complex responsibilities that sexual intimacy can bring. This means learning to respect a partners feelings - such as the decision to say "no" or to set limits on sexual involvement. It also means making sure your sons and daughters understand that the responsibility for using protection is to be shared by both partner. Too may teenagers, unfortunately, have learned this lesson the hard way.
There's no easy answer
To many of the questions that young people ask, there are no easy answers, but what ever you say, try not to judge your child. Be glad they asked you - this reinforces the idea that you welcome their questions. This way, they will grow to trust you and allow you the opportunity to be their No. 1 sexuality educator rather than an ignorant or misinformed classmate.
One of a parent's responsibilities is correcting misinformation about sexuality from outside sources. Every day, children are bombarded with sexual messages from television, advertising, music, films and friends, without any discussion of what sexuality means or the consequences of sexual intercourse.
Talking Will Not Make them Do "It"
You may feel that giving teenagers information about sexuality is the same as giving them permission to have sexual intercourse. Rather, research has shown that such education can influence teenagers to be more responsible. Also, remember you can't control whether your children will become sexually involved by shielding them from the facts. Children get information about sexuality from a variety of sources that you can't control - friends, television, videos and magazines. Wouldn't you like to balance these messages with your own values and information?
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