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Broaching ‘the talk’ with a tween

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Dear Sharon,

We are finding a lot of pornographic-type stuff in our 12-year-old son’s room, hidden away in closets, drawers, etc. Should we ignore this, or should we mention it to him? Is it time for us to have the “talk” with him? Do people still do that anymore, and if so, what kind of talk do we have in a time of such open awareness? What’s your advice for parents these days who are facing conversations about sex with their kids?

Dear parents,

Since most teens and tweens are juggling increased pressure from peers, the media, school and hormones, I think it is important for parents to spend time helping them sort through many issues — including ones pertaining to sex and pornography — though particulars can vary greatly for each child, even in our era of open awareness.

It is true that many children this age have been exposed to plenty of information and misinformation about intimacy. It is also true that 12 year olds frequently become embarrassed and/or defensive when parents begin discussions related to bodies or sex. Even talks about obvious physical changes can be difficult to have. Nevertheless, if offered respectfully and thoughtfully, the support and guidance of an older, and hopefully, wiser person can help decrease the isolation and confusion that often surround such topics.

Rather than jumping into the “talk,” I generally suggest that parents begin by making sure that they are spending plenty of enjoyable time with their child and having frequent, relaxed discussions about their young person’s life — inside and outside of school. Such time can help family relationships stay close, connected and fun, and ultimately help the more difficult talks go well.

When it is time to broach the sex/pornography discussion, some parents begin by listening to their young person talk about general topics related to intimacy. He could talk about his thoughts, experiences and emotions about friendships that have changed, crushes he has felt, romances he has enjoyed or hoped for, rejections he has encountered, or physical changes he has experienced or seen in his friends and schoolmates. Adults, of course, usually ask questions to help a child open up, but often make the mistake of talking more than is needed. If you or your spouse can remember that listening to your child can be at least as important as the information you share, it can help your child feel “understood” and less alone as he sorts things through.

Parents I know have said that after they listen for a while, they explain that sex and intimacy are important and wonderful parts of life, but ones that need to be thought about in order to go well. Talking about the repercussions of impulsive reactions to possible romantic interests has also been helpful. Some parents have found that sharing parts of their personal experiences with their children helped. I often suggest that parents ask their child one simple question: “What do you think about what I just said?” after each point they make. This gives the child a chance to process and share his own ideas, opens up an easier dialogue, and ultimately helps him understand what is being said.

It may help to sensitively explain that although pornographic “stuff” can be stimulating, it is not about loving human contact. If pornography becomes a preoccupation or substitute for real contact, it can easily interfere with — and have a negative impact on — healthy relationships.

Exploring sexuality is a common and healthy reaction to physical and emotional changes that occur during adolescence. When parents have engaged, ongoing discussions on the topic without worry or pressure, they can consistently improve their tween or teen’s relationships inside and outside of their home. As much of the success and happiness we all achieve in life centers on our relationships, I think such talks are worth the effort.

Sharon C. Peters is a mother and director of Parents Helping Parents, 669 President St., Brooklyn; (718) 638-9444. If you have a question about a challenge in your life (no issue is too big or small) e-mail it to Dear Sharon at SWeiss@cnglocal.com.
Updated 4:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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