While 43% of parents don’t see themselves this way, they are in fact the preferred and primary source that 63% of young people want to go for information about their sexuality (King et al, 1988; McKay and Holowaty,1997; Canadian Association of Adolescent Health. So you already have a head start!
To add to your confidence, it may help to think through the main concerns parents have expressed about discussing sexuality:
- “The more my child knows about sex the more likely he/she will experiment with it.” Consider the quality of decisions that will be made with a strong knowledge base as opposed to those based on ignorance. Young people have a range of choices—including not being sexually active.
- “I have to know everything before I can teach my children.” You don’t, for several reasons. There are a lot of good resources for both of you to use as supplements to your conversations. Finding answers together can be a great opportunity to model where to find reliable information. And keep this in mind: the relationship with one’s parents is the strongest associative factor influencing sexual behaviour, especially among younger youth. (Canadian Youth, Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Study; Council of Ministers of Education, 2003). Learning to discuss difficult issues together can be an important bonding experience for you and your child.
- “I’m afraid I’ll tell my child too much.” It’s important to assess the type of question you are being asked. Is it a request for information, a request for permission, or a check-in for normalcy? Is it a shock question to test your reaction, your approachability, or trustworthiness? Is it a plea for help?
If you are initiating the conversation, you need to know how to gauge what is appropriate for the age of your child. Meg Hickling, one of Canada’s most trusted sexual health educators, has produced excellent resources for parents on having age-appropriate conversations—see our website for more details.