Sexuality Education: What To Tell Your Children (cont.)

During adolescence, there are some keys for parents. Number one, be honest. Be honest, tell the truth. If you don't know the answer to a question, instead of brushing your child off and say "go ask your mom" or "go ask your dad", admit that you don't know it and find some way to help your child get the answer. You get on the Internet, you go to the library, you go to a book store and buy books. You realize that perhaps you need some help and you go take a class. And, if you find it really tough to answer these questions, then place your child with someone who will answer them for you in the way you want them answered. That can be a relative, another family member. That can be a friend, a minister or clergy person. It can be a trusted teacher or youth worker, a grandparent. As teenagers separate from their parents, though, and move into adulthood, one of the tasks that they have to do is to be independent. And, what that means is, there may be times that they can't talk to you. You may have been open, you may have given them every opportunity to talk, but for a variety of reasons, they just can't talk to you perhaps at this time. And, it's really important that you give your child someone else to go to. You have this conversation in which you say, "I love you. I always want you to come to me if you can. You should never go through anything major in your life where you have fear or concern or you're upset alone. Here's two people that you can go to who I believe share our values and would help you. And, if you want, would help you come to me and tell me. What you're feeling, what your problem is, what you need help with." But the important thing, as we look at some of the events over the last few years of young people committing violence and suicide and getting HIV, etc. the important thing is that they never go through it alone. They should have some adult who will be there and talk to them.

Another thing that is so important thing to share with adolescents is your values. Most adolescents will get some form of sexuality education. What we call, generally, the plumbing courses. The body parts, how it works. But, what parents need to share over and over again are the values that are important in their family. For many parents, this will be based on their religion or their culture. But, making sure that your children know what your standards are, what your expectations are, but also as a parent, understanding that, more than likely, when your child makes that decision about being involved with someone in an intimate sexual relationship, you are not going to be there and you can't hold their hand or pull them back so they don't get hurt or they don't suffer consequences. Your young person is going to make that decision. And, as the parent, your role is to prepare them for that so that when they do decide that they feel good about that decision, that they are not being coerced, they're not being used, and that they are protecting themselves against pregnancies and STDs.

Moderator: What do I do when my kids ask me questions about what I did (sexual behavior)?

Huberman: That's probably one of the most frequent questions in parent-child communication seminars or workshops that comes up. And, there is no easy answer to this one. And, nobody can tell you what's right or wrong or what's the best or the not best thing to do. But, the guideline is that you have a right to your privacy and it's okay to say to your child, that's not something right now that I'd like to share with you. You're at an age right now, in the next few years you may be making that decision yourself and I want you to make it on your own, feeling good that you know very well what your values are and what your own standards for your behavior are. Other parents feel very comfortable saying to their child, I'm glad you asked that question. Yes, I did have an intimate relationship when I was a teenager. And the parent may choose to say, I did have an intimate relationship and I felt good about it. We really cared about each other, we protected ourselves against pregnancies and STDs. Or, a parent might say, I did have an intimate relationship and I wish I hadn't and this is why. The important thing here is being honest with your child, but also understanding that they are going to make that decision for themselves and you can preach all you want to, but the fact is, that over 80% of the young people in this country have had at least one sexual relationship before they're 20. And, while we may want them to live by the value of waiting for marriage, 90% of the marriages in this country are not virginal marriages. So, while that may be a value of some denominations or individuals, it's not a public value that's overwhelmingly held in our country. I said before that parents have a right to their privacy. But, I think what that also carries with it is that parents respect and also give their children a right to privacy and understand that as they move from childhood into young adulthood that they do have a desire for some things, as they work out who they are as an adult, to be private and perhaps to not share them.

Moderator: How has sexuality changed from the past generations?

Huberman: When we look back in history, we look at cultures and how they've changed around sexuality and sexual behavior, we see cycles of more openness and acceptance. And then there will be a cycle when the pendulum swings back to much more control, much more restriction, much more closed kind of atmosphere that discourages open conversation about sexuality. I think what has changed it incredibly in just the last couple of years is the Internet. And, the possibilities or the potential that any individual has now for learning about sexuality and becoming perhaps more comfortable and knowledgeable about sexuality is unlimited. In past cultures we didn't have that ability to instantaneously access information. Before books were printed, information about sexuality had to be transferred from person to person and it really was much more open in the societies. There was much more of a naturalness and comfort with sexuality.

I was just in New Mexico and had the opportunity to talk to some Native Americans about the celebration that is a part of tribal customs when a young girl starts her first menstrual period. And it truly is a celebration, a party with wonderful food and all the relatives. And, everyone at that party imparts to that young girl a sense of, you're a woman physically now, you're wonderful. But, there is also a part of those ritual customs and the celebration in which the elders, the older women, the older men share stories from centuries ago that relate to a young woman what her responsibilities are and will be in the future. Most parents today think their children are getting a comprehensive sexuality education in school. And so, they feel like, well, maybe I don't have to do it. Maybe I don't have to talk about it. But, unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.

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