Growing up, many of us learned about sex either from our friends and older siblings or from our parents who delivered the “Birds and the Bees” story or some variation of “Don’t do it—that’s all you need to know”. Some of us may have even learned about sex (and our parents!) by discovering naughty magazines and films stashed around the house. If we were lucky, we had straightforward lessons in our schools that covered everything from anatomy to sexually transmitted diseases and infections (STD/Is). Information is shared quite differently today, and as a parent, you have to stay up with the times and have some “real talk” conversations with your children about sex sooner rather than later.
Here’s the good news: Teen birth rates among Black teens has consistently gone down over the past twenty-four years. Since 1991, the number of babies born to teenagers in our community has dropped 67% compared to 57% among White teens. Since 2012, the rate has dropped 11% compared to 9% among Whites. Both groups experienced a drop in the teen pregnancy rate—a whopping 58% since 1990.
Ninety percent of Black teens say they do not want to get pregnant or cause pregnancy, according to a study published in 2011. The same study found that while our children feel a great deal of pressure to have sex at their early ages, parents are still the most important influence in children’s lives when it comes to how they develop their views about sex, love, and relationships. Teens also say they would be more comfortable using contraception if they were able to talk about it openly and in a positive way.
Here are five tips for having important conversations about sex, pregnancy, and STD/Is with your children:
Be Positive and Affirming
Begin any discussion by affirming all gender and sexual identities. Your children go to school with others who are increasingly more openly identifying as being other than a cisgender, heterosexual person. Your child may even have discovered that he or she is pansexual or gender nonconforming and you certainly do not want to alienate him or her. The best way to establish a safe space that facilitates open dialogue is to teach acceptance of others for who and what they are.
Not sure what some of the terms you hear or read online mean? Check out this glossary and familiarize yourself with some of the newer language being used to discuss sexual identity, orientation, and behaviors.
Know Where You Stand
Some of us were raised “old school” and struggle to diverge from the bare bones, don’t-do-anything lesson plan used to educate us about sex, pregnancy, etc. Perhaps you were raised in a strict religious household or you were raised by parents who felt the best way to keep you out of “trouble” was to hand down rather harsh forms of punishment. Or maybe you were raised by a flower child hippy from the 1960s who raised you to liberally believe in “Free love”. However you came into your own understanding of sex and the results of sexual activity, you have to know where you stand on the issue today.
Prepare to be challenged, because today’s youth are growing up with more support and empowerment, especially via social media, and they may respectfully disagree with your approach. You have to think about how your child’s experiences thus far factor in and whether or not you want them to be raised like you were. My father, for example, had some rather homophobic views as I was growing up, but when I got older, I challenged him on them and he’s since changed his point of view to one that is way more accepting and supportive. I decided to be intentional about raising my own son in a more liberal way, more like what my mother imparted upon me.
They May Know More Than You Expected
Ask questions! It is a good idea to find out what your children already know or don’t know by asking open-ended questions and letting them speak. They may feel a bit embarrassed and stutter or giggle a bit, but give them time to get it out. Practice reflective listening to let them know they are being heard. Believe it or not, our children are thinking about sex, pregnancy, relationships, and even marriage more than we may have considered.
Avoid jumping to conclusions and relying on stale lectures– you will make them feel comfortable coming to you with other questions they may have when you find a different approach. Remember: no question is stupid and all questions are welcomed.
You might not know every STD/I out there or what the latest slang terms are, so go on Google and Spotify and begin educating yourself. Listen to what your children are listening to and learn their language. Do you know what a “thot” is? Do you think a compliment about a girl’s “brain” is really about how smart she is? Well, it doesn’t, so if you were wondering, you’ve got some learning to do.
Provide Resources That Are Accessible to Them
Teens today have access to all of the information we could have only wishes for when we were their ages. With cell phones and tablets, they can read and research anything at any time, where they are. You can help them learn more by providing them with age-appropriate digital resources.
Check out No Teen Shame, the home base for a movement of seven young mothers who want to destigmatize teen pregnancy, provide educational and supportive resources, and change the conversations we have about sex education. Malone also writes the Teen Mom NYC blog, which offers affirmations and support for teen parents.
Make sure you and your children know the laws about sexual activity and what constitutes consent and what could land your child in jail. Laws vary by state, so be sure to familiarize yourself with your local laws.
Young people need to understand all of the risks involved with having sex, so share this STD/I fact sheet provided by the Center for Disease Control. It explains a lot about transmission and offers counseling and treatment resources.
You have a great opportunity to turn their devices into educational tools.
Gloria Malone, a New York City-based advocate for teen mothers, wrote about what teen moms wish parents knew about “the Talk”. She reminds us that these discussions are ongoing and that we don’t have to cover everything in one setting. Just remember that they believe you are the best resource for them and you will be the one to shape their approach to sexual activity. An affirming, supportive, knowledgeable parent is the greatest resource a young person can have.