Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Column: Let's talk … A starting place for parents

by Nicky WilleyNorthwest Community Health Center
| November 4, 2009 11:00 PM

I remember my adolescent years, growing up in a military home with “older” parents. I don’t recall ever hearing the “S” word, “sex” that is.

I also remember being married for several months, finding out I was about to have my first child and being terrified to tell my dad because he would know how it happened. I made a promise to myself then that my kids would never feel like that. I vowed I would be a parent who my children could ask any questions of and receive honest, accurate answers. 

The changes in attitudes, behaviors and lifestyles that have taken place in our society present today’s parents and children with some of the most complex issues they will ever confront.

Consider the following:

• There are over 1 million teenage pregnancies each year in the United States.

• Eight out of 10 boys and seven out of 10 girls have had sex by the time they are 17 years old.

• One out of six teenagers contracts a sexually transmitted infection.

• The U.S. has one of the highest teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates in the developed world. Research consistently shows that open, honest family communication about sex can reduce the risk of your child becoming one of these statistics.

Research also shows that millions of teenagers around the country consider their parents the most influential people in their lives. The majority of teens say they want their parents to be the person who talks to them about difficult topics such as drugs, alcohol and the “big one” – sex. 

Many parents are uncomfortable talking with their children about these subjects. What one needs to remember is how is the future of our nation – our children – going to receive truthful, accurate information unless we as parents fulfill our responsibility and educate our kids.

The following ideas are offered to assist all parents who decide to take on the challenge of being that all important person in their child’s life.

• Be concerned about telling “too little, too late” rather than “too much, too soon.” Information provided in an open, honest and loving manner does not cause fear or encourage experimentation. Remember, your children are hearing about sex everywhere else. They deserve to hear it from you.

• Anticipate the questions and practice your answers ahead of time. Become familiar with typical questions and behaviors that occur at various ages. This will reduce the chance of being caught off guard.

• Initiate the conversation. Use “teachable moments” – everyday, naturally occurring events. Books, news articles and TV shows can be wonderful discussion starters. It is the job of parents to teach their children how to get along in the world. You need to decide what is important for children to know and tell them before a crisis occurs.

• Be clear about your values. This doesn’t mean, “be judgmental.” Children want and need to hear the family’s values around sexual issues. They also need to know that their opinions and feelings are respected.

• Answer questions as they come up and listen carefully to what is being asked. Answer simply and honestly. Don’t put your child off, they may not ask again. Reward a question with, “I’m glad you came to me with that question.” This will encourage them to come to you when they have other questions.

• Establish an environment where children feel free to ask questions. Be an “askable” parent. It is never a good idea to tell your child to wait until they are older before you will answer their questions. If they are old enough to ask the question, they are old enough to receive the answer.

• Be aware of the “question behind the question.” The unspoken question, “Am I normal?” is often hiding behind many questions about development, thoughts and feelings. Reassure your children as often as possible.

This is a call to action. I challenge all parents in our community to get involved in their child’s life and be that one important person who helps them through these difficult years of their lives. Help them make wise, informed decisions so they can go on to conquer the world.

For more information on how to talk with your child, call me at the Northwest Community Health Center (293-3755 ext. 231).

(Nicky Willey is the clinical coordinator and a licensed practical nurse at the Northwest Community Health Center in Libby).