Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Talking to teens about sex

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the May 20, 2004 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Talking about sex.

As the birds and bees begin to appear and my husband’s thoughts turn to baseball, it seemed a good time to address the topic of sex — talking to kids about sex, that is. I found it fairly easy when my children were young, but as they’ve become teenagers I’m challenged to keep the conversation going.

For help, I interviewed a number of experienced parents willing to share their tried and true wisdom.

• Anne found it “very, very difficult” to talk about sex with her teenagers. She said her son had the attitude he knew it all, and refused to talk about it. “My daughter, it turns out, knows less than we thought, but she is reluctant to discuss it.”

Anne’s best advice is that role modeling is the most important thing parents can do. “My son has a father who’s a devoted husband, who doesn’t make sexist jokes, doesn’t flirt with women and treats me with respect. Our kids see us be affectionate and loving with one another. I also believe in the power of role modeling by extended family and friends.”

• Sharon says talking about sex has become easier the more she’s done it. “You have to put your own fears and inhibitions aside. If your kids see that you’re uncomfortable, they’ll be uncomfortable. I try to act as if I’ve been talking about it every day of my life. I use a real matter of fact tone. I use all the correct terms. I don’t joke. I go on the assumption they know nothing and I tell them everything because sometimes they’re too uncomfortable to ask questions.”

She says parents should take the initiative. “If you wait for the right time, it might never come. It can’t be a one-time discussion. I keep talking with my kids, asking them what they’ve heard at school, what they’ve seen, if there is anything they don’t understand.”

• Robert also began by asking his sons what they observed, and how they felt about it. And he shared some of his own experiences of growing up. By laying a foundation and building trust the conversations became more serious as the boys grew up. “‘Here’s what the Church teaches about sexuality,’ I’d say. ‘What do you think?’ I wanted them to be able to acknowledge they have sexual desires, to be grateful for them, and to learn from them. Sexual desire is not bad, it’s not evil, not something to hide or runaway from. What’s important is how we manage our sexual desire-with modesty, self-control and chastity.”

He says part of that is getting enough sleep, exercise, and proper food, building positive friendships with both sexes, and avoiding things that might awaken sexual desire inappropriately, like pornography.

• Liz says she and her husband wanted the children to learn the facts from them. “We just sat down and talked to them. We had a book written for children that helped.” The family was open about sexuality and celebrated when their daughters began their periods by taking them out to a nice lunch.

“We were pretty definite, firm, even rigid in our beliefs about no pre-marital sex. They knew if they moved in with someone before marriage, they would have a private family wedding, not a big wedding like we wanted for them. But you need to keep the doors open, no matter what they do, they need to know you love them.”

• Kathy, a mother of five grown children, says the subject of sex comes up way before most parents expect it, so it’s never too early to start talking. Also, she says, it’s never too late. “Even as young adults they come home to ask questions. It’s important for them to hear from both Mom and Dad, but give them permission to talk to other responsible adults, too. I was a Campfire leader, and a lot of those kids came to me with their questions.”

My conversations with these parents seemed only to scratch the surface of this issue. They certainly inspired me to pick up the conversation again with my teenagers.

© 2004, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)

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