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Tweens, parents, and ‘the talk’

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Dear Sharon,

I am a single mom with a 12-year-old son who is on the path towards puberty. I recently purchased some illustrated books for him to read that explain sexuality. Is there anything else I should do besides just giving him the books? Dear Mom,

I am glad to hear that you have some appropriate books to give your 12 year old. Sometimes schools hold health classes to discuss different aspects of sexuality for teens and tweens as well.

Whether a child is getting information from books, classes, or the most common sources of information and misinformation — peers and media — it is often good for parents to also spend some time talking about sexuality or related topics such as crushes, physical changes, and the reactions of friends and classmates to this phase of development.

As a single mother of a boy you might feel that any topics related to puberty are “off limits,” but for many teens and tweens, parental support, guidance, and understanding is much appreciated. Even when a child is resistant or embarrassed when sensitive points are raised, it makes a difference to have adult care and company as thoughts, questions, and concerns associated with puberty or other issues are sorted through.

Parents often wonder what to explain or how to bring up the topic of sexuality. It is often helpful to begin by spending some extra quality time with a child in a relaxed and fun atmosphere. This kind of time can sometimes elicit meaningful conversations without too much strain. A child might start talking about his appearance during a slow-paced shopping excursion or comment on a “mushy” movie watched at home. Extended one-on-one time can also present opportunities for a parent to make gentle queries about subjects such as the health class at school, her son’s reaction to books she provided, or thoughts about friends who have started dating.

If parents decide to bring up a topic, it is important to do so in a respectful and relatively quiet tone. If moms or dads are too pushy or urgent, conversations often end too quickly. When and if a child begins to ask questions or share ideas, it is usually important for parents to listen more than they talk. Letting a child express what is on his mind without too many adult opinions or interruptions increases the child’s ability to release any pent-up emotions and improves the likelihood of future conversations. Discussions with 12 year olds often take place over time, so keeping additional talks relatively stress-free and productive is important.

Even when specific circumstances or a child’s personality makes talking directly about personal issues unlikely, spending relaxed time together will make it easier to bring things up when and if an appropriate time ever surfaces. Also setting aside time to strengthen family connections improves a child’s self-esteem and builds a positive and hopeful attitude about relationships — vitally important aspects of life for a developing 12 year old.

Best wishes as you and your son continue to find ways to think through the many aspects of being 12 together.

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 4:55 pm, July 9, 2018
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