Opening up to teens: Communication needs to go beyond sexual health
May 19, 2015
As graduation draws closer and excited seniors sport their college sweatshirts, each day seems to bring the class of 2015 nearer to college. Some of their most critical learning, however, may take place before they arrive on campus.
According to Annabel Sheinberg, education director for Planned Parenthood of Utah, now is the time for parents to engage their graduating teens in conversations about healthy relationships and sexual health.
"Teens are heading off into a new chapter of their lives. In many cases they’ll be living in a dorm with many students of all genders and often with access to alcohol. Having conversations about how to negotiate relationships and dating and roommates and lots of new situations is appropriate oven this major transition," she explained.
"It’s a good time to talk about protecting sexual health and about communicating with people in their lives around their boundaries. Parents can talk to their seniors about how they’re going to navigate in social situations including parties, friendships, and relationships."
Talking about communication in relationships is especially important and often overlooked, she said.
"Something that we know from parent and teen surveys is that parents may instruct their teens to avoid pregnancy and drinking and that’s important, but teens have expressed an interest in learning more about discussing boundaries and having a healthy relationship. It’s really important for parents to go beyond just saying don’t get pregnant or use a condom."
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Marty Liccardo, a health educator at the University of Utah Center for Student Wellness, agrees.
"In many ways it is equally if not more important (than discussing contraception) for folks to have conversations with their children about consent, communication, and the emotional risks of sexual activity because that is precisely what I think our schools and our culture tend to not talk about and not focus on."
He added that our culture is often "afraid to talk to young people about sex and sexuality, but that those are exactly the people that need to talk about it the most."
Liccardo stressed the importance of talking "early and often" as ensuring teens receive "good information to protect themselves and their partner or partners is pretty critical."
Park City High School senior Doug Nagie acknowledged that talking to parents about sex might be awkward but said he understands its importance.
"Someone needs to talk about sex even if it’s not the most comfortable conversation," he said.
Senior Gabrielle Ricci agrees.
"I think it’s really important because it sets teens up for the future. You have to know what it means to be in a healthy relationship so that when you’re in (a relationship) you know if its good for you or not. (Talking about sex) would probably be awkward but I think it’s better to be awkward than to be uninformed."
Some talking points suggested by Planned Parenthood for parents are:
Sheinberg advised parents to "take an interest in their teens’ lives even when their teens are in college and be a support person to talk to about social situations, relationships, and staying safe."
"A really good thing parents can do is to reflect back on things that they want to share from when they were a young person navigating some of these issues, what they know now, and how it felt then."
According to Liccardo, parents can also direct their teens to other resources.
"Parents have the unique opportunity to be a support system, but they can also be great references if they aren’t the ones their kids want to talk to."
One potential resource for seniors and parents is an upcoming "Know Before You Go" class which will be hosted by Summit County Planned Parenthood Teen Council. The class will focus on consent and how to help protect oneself and others in college. There will be a Q and A about parent-teen communication.
The class will be held on June 2nd from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Park City High School. Refreshments will be served.
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