BEING AN "ASKABLE ADULT"
There's no certification to become an "askable adult." Instead, it's an attitudinal approach in which parents are an open, knowledgeable source of support for their children. This doesn't come naturally to everyone--it takes effort! But, making the investment can help you and your child build a strong bond to navigate adolescence and the future together.
All of us have a different relationship to our sexuality; some of us may have significant baggage. Having an awareness of the emotions surrounding our own sexual development and how they may influence our interactions with our children is a critical first step. Whether our prior experiences have been positive, negative or somewhere in between, the first step before we begin a conversation with our children is acknowledging where we are and what work we still have to do. The process of identifying and coming to terms with these emotions will be different for each person; this may mean journaling, seeking out a support group, talking with a licensed therapist, or finding a creative outlet. But, ultimately, this is a part of a larger journey toward self-acceptance.
After your child poses a tough or perhaps surprising question, try to put yourself in their shoes and ask, "why is my child asking this question?", "what have they been experiencing recently?", "could they be in physical or emotional pain?". Considering their emotional perspective can help you gain valuable insights into their current experience. This empathy can aid parents in addressing questions in a more sensitive and accurate way.
It's An Ongoing Dialogue
While you may feel uncomfortable or inexperienced having these conversations, that's okay! The critical part is to consistently find time to talk with your child, often in small doses. In doing this, their needs are prioritized, and they will take note! Also, when we identify and discuss any discomfort we feel in talking about certain topics, we show our vulnerability, which can bring us even closer with our kids. Ultimately, the goal is to convey that we are an unwavering resource as our kids move through adolescence.
What we don't say can be as impactful as what we do say. Notice how you react when your child asks you a question. Does your body tense up? Do you redirect the conversation? Do you laugh it off? These can be signs of your personal discomfort with a specific topic. Once you have identified your reactions, you can change those habits and address your child's questions in a more intentional (and perhaps accurate) way.
Lecture Less & Listen More
Carving out time to listen with intention to your child can be one of the most valuable things we do as parents. Try a 1:3 ratio of parent talking to child talking, so the child drives the conversation and the parent absorbs the information. Try leveraging your everyday routine: chat on your drive home from school, while watching Netflix, or right before bed. This way, you can integrate brief, but consistent conversations that are more comfortable for everyone.
Saying "I Don't Know"
No one holds all of the answers! Instead of answering on the fly and risk giving an answer you may later regret, tell your child "I'll get back to you" or "I need to think about that." Then, do your research (see our Latest Research page for a place to start). When you re-engage with your child with a thoughtful, well researched answer you will feel more confident in giving them accurate information and show your child that learning is a life-long practice.
Youth value your guidance as a trusted adult in their lives! Here are some simple, but important takeaways:
- Talk with your child early and often in an honest yet age appropriate way.
- Short, consistent check-ins are more effective than one lengthy "talk."
- Continual communication helps parents and kids stay emotionally connected.
- Sexual development starts the day children are born; the way we communicate about it can impact the rest of their lives.
Get even more tips for talking with your kids.