You survived the sleepless nights of infanthood, the meltdowns of the toddler years and all that came after your child’s foray into the early school years. But perhaps nothing looms larger than “the talk” when the teen years hit.
While this might seem like one of the scariest, sweat-inducing times as a parent, experts say it doesn’t have to be.
When you notice changes associated with puberty, maintaining open and non-confrontational dialogue is key, says Eleanor Weekes, supervisor of Therapy Services at Community Partners, a Palm Beach County nonprofit funded by Children’s Services Council.
“Let your child know what they are experiencing is part of their developmental process and that everyone goes through it,” she say. “If there are hygiene issues, depending on what it is, you should take that opportunity to teach your child how best to care for their bodies.”
What about issues beyond the birds and bees, such as sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity?
“What parents say on this topic will depend on their values,” Weekes says. “If they know that their children have been exposed to certain ideas about sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity on TV, in school, etc., then a good place to start is by asking the child what they might think about what they heard, to know what ideas the child may have, and then giving them the correct information.”
It’s best to listen first, especially concerning questions your children might have about their sexual orientation, says Ryanmarie Rice, chief of staff at Compass Community Center in Lake Worth.
“Keep an open mind and an open dialogue,” Rice says. “Allow your child to express their questions about gender identity naturally and organically.”
While there is no cookie-cutter way to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity, there are wrong ways to handle these subjects.
“Don't make your child feel wrong or bad for expressing their gender identity or sexual orientation,” Rice says. “But do be sure to foster an environment of support and open communication. Don't rush to put a label on your child. Instead, do your research to understand the difference between biological sex, gender and sexual orientation.”
Weekes reminds parents it’s vital to keep an open mind when talking with your children about sexual health and puberty.
“In general, if parents have an open relationship talking with their kids about their bodies when they are young and they keep talking with them, it makes it easier to have these conversations with them as they get older,” she says.
As the experts at KidsHealth point out, you know your children best. For example, you’ll notice when they start telling sexual jokes or when they become concerned with their personal appearance. This is a good time to jump in with questions, such as:
- Are you noticing changes in your body?
- Are you having strange feelings?
- Are you sad sometimes and don't know why?
An annual physical exam is a great time to talk about this. A doctor can tell your blossoming child — and you — what to expect in the next few years. An exam can be a catalyst for a good parent-child discussion. The later you wait to broach these talks, the more likely your child will form misconceptions or become apprehensive of physical and emotional changes.