Our children absorb messages from every second of their awake lives. Our culture often sends a message to children and adolescents that doesn’t reflect our family and personal values. In this world, failing to talk to our children can have just as much impact as parent-initiated communication. Adults who never experienced their own adolescent conversations with important adults lack a model for life-changing discussions. Feeling ready to talk about challenging topics gives parents and caregivers the confidence to broach ideas and conversations that might never come up in regular discussions with adolescents. These sessions aim to help parents and caregivers feel ready.
Keeping communication open between children and parents or caregivers requires exceptional acceptance, openness, and love. As children journey through childhood into adolescence, parents and caregivers may feel like their children are suddenly foreign and distant; yet it is important to try to maintain a strong connection with them. Feeling loved and accepted by their parents and caregivers can be literally lifesaving for adolescents.
Our children step along the path from childhood, where friendships are primarily platonic, into the world of adolescence, where the push and pull of romance and sexuality can be simultaneously confusing, alluring, off-putting, all-consuming, and more. Navigating this course can be difficult for youth and for the adults who love them. No easy answers exist; rather, nuances and shades of gray can shift as quickly and dramatically as the seasons or weather.
Parents and caregivers may not feel prepared to talk to children or adolescents about sexuality-related ideas or information. Youth may be uncertain about the reception they might receive from parents or caregivers if they share their feelings and open up about how they are evolving as sexual beings. But the effort to communicate is worth it. Research shows us that parents and caregivers can still have a powerful impact on their children right through adolescence, when they keep lines of communication open (Planned Parenthood "Let's Talk Month"). Teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to wait longer to have partnered sexual activity, and when they do, they are more likely to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infection and unintended pregnancy.
Studies show differences in parents’ and teens’ recall of conversations about sex. This may indicate that important messages are not making an impact. For this reason, it’s important for parents to communicate regularly, directly, and specifically.. By responding effectively, parents can open the door for future conversations about sex and sexuality.
Our Unitarian Universalist values, especially our first Principle—that we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person—guide us to affirm our youth in a way that allows them to grow into adulthood in a healthy and positive way, including their sexuality. Exploring our values with other parents allows us to open ourselves to new ideas and lose some of the negative scripts we might be carrying from our upbringing and past experiences. Talking through the ways we might approach challenging topics before we begin conversations with our youth gives us a chance to practice finding the right words, the most positive outlooks, ensuring that our conversations have a chance to be open and helpful to our children and youth.
Parents and Caregivers as Sexuality Educators is an opportunity and an invitation to begin conversations with a sex-positive foundation and a curiosity to learn more about our children’s values and ideas, as well as to transmit our own values in a positive and healthy way.
Robin Slaw, MBA, MAT
Director of Religious Education, Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Columbia, MD
Our Whole Lives Trainer and Facilitator
Credentialed Unitarian Universalist Religious Educator