Planned Parenthood tries to make sex talk easier between teens and parents
The next family program set to take place on Nov. 4 at the high school
Talking about sex with a son or daughter can be uncomfortable, which is why many parents instead choose not discuss it. The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah is trying to break those barriers with its new family connection program.
Linking Families and Teens, or LiFT, began in 2015 as a research survey in five states, including Utah. It aims to help rural families improve communication and knowledge about sex, sexuality and healthy resources, said Dalia Gonzalez, local communication health educator for Planned Parenthood.
Last weekend, 12 Latino parents and high school-age teens gathered at Park City High School for interactive workshops both together and apart. On Nov. 4, a similar event is scheduled for English-speaking parents and teens in Summit and Wasatch counties at the high school.
Jose Diaz, who participated in the event, said he, his wife and son, Tomas, all went in expecting the six-hour session to be embarrassing and a little boring. Jose said Tomas felt uncomfortable at first, especially being with fellow students, but came out saying he was glad they went as a family.
“It helped a lot because, you know, I think the ice was broken,” Jose said. “Sometimes, we as parents get afraid of talking about sex with our teenagers- how to do this, how to do that, and what to do in certain situations, like what to do if he breaks up with his girlfriend.”
Diaz, who is from Mexico, said he also felt a sense of community with fellow parents who shared similar cultural backgrounds. They were all raised to almost fear sex, he said.
“They shared their feelings and we shared ours and we learned a lot from them,” he said. “We all came to the conclusion that 99.9 (percent) of us were not open to these kinds of talks, these kinds of conversations with our kids, with our teenagers, with our little ones and even with other adults. I really learned that everything is normal.”
Diaz heard about the program at a Bright Futures event at the high school in August. He signed up, took a survey before the program and will take another survey in three months. LiFT is gathering the data, along with data from a survey group that does not participate in the program, to learn if it is making a difference, Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez, who teaches the teens during the workshop, is heading up the project alongside Annabel Sheinburg, local director of education for Planned Parenthood. Their ultimate goal is to provide education and improve family relationships, since rural communities are often those with the highest teen pregnancy rates.
“What we know from the data out there is that while (the rate of) urban pregnancy has been declining fairly steeply across the country, for about 20 years, that is not the case with rural pregnancy,” Sheinburg said. “Rural pregnancy is going down more gradually. This program is new and is designed to work specifically with people in rural communities.”
During the past few years, Sheinburg has seen teens reporting even less access to resources and to education. Sheinburg also noticed that teens struggle in small towns to keep things private.
“That visibility, that everybody knows you when you go in, is hard,” she said. “Teens really value confidentiality, and in rural communities, that is a little more challenging.”
The LiFT program is providing education and a parent-to-child connection. It discusses sexuality, such as preferred pronouns, sexual orientation and sex education, but it also focuses on family values. In a short exercise, families define their own values. Parents learn about adolescent brain development and teens walk away with tips about how to plan hard conversations with their parents.
“Ultimately, both of them will feel more connected,” Gonzalez said. “The teens will feel like their parent took the time to learn about why they are the way they are.”
Because it includes a survey, those who participate in the program are given money upon completion. Teens can earn up to $110 and parents up to $80, which is provided by federal funds. Families from Wasatch and Summit counties are welcome to register either at a kick-off event on Oct. 9 at 6 p.m. at the high school or via phone call (435-962-0069) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org). There will be programs in the spring as well.
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