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For Parents

“I don’t feel comfortable in discussing sexuality with my child”: Parent-based barriers in discussing Sex and Sexuality with their children

Parents are role models for their children. They not only play a passive role in children's development, but are also their guides and mentors, and they do so in different areas of their children’s lives. They are mediators with society; they give emotional support; they counsel the schools to which they apply; they follow their kids’ extra activities. Strong bonds and open communication clear the road to trust and the learning process. Parents also play a key role in promoting healthy sexual development for adolescents by initiating and discussing sexuality with their children. However, these types of communication are rare, and when they happen, they tend to lack consistency and length. But higher quality parent–adolescent relationships, parental knowledge of adolescents’ daily lives, and positive parenting behaviours have been seen to be associated with better sexual health among adolescents. Parents, then, do have the ability to promote adolescents’ healthy sexual development, but unfortunately are rarely the adolescents’ primary source of sexual health information. For various reasons, they tend to be reluctant to engage directly with their adolescents in conversations about sex and sexuality, leading adolescents to rely on social media and their peers.

What are the barriers to communication?

  1. Limited sexual health knowledge

Sometimes parents think that they lack knowledge about sexuality and sexual behaviour, thus are unlikely to engage in conversations about sex with their children and when they do, the conversations that they have tend to be brief, vague, and indirect. If parents feel more confident about their expertise, they will also feel more confident in teaching it to their kids. The contrary may also prove correct: if children feel that their parents are knowledgeable, they are more likely to have discussions with them and are also less anxious about such discussions.

2. Perceptions of adolescents’ readiness for sex

Parents avoid discussions about sex when they perceive that their children are not ready to have these conversations. Having conversations about sex and sexuality with your child won’t increase the likelihood that your child engages in sexual activities. In fact, it is the contrary: having discussions with them early may make them more responsible in regard to when to have sex or how to have safe sex. Parents’ perceptions of readiness for sexual health conversations may be based on age and the belief that children are not involved in romantic relationships and/or are not yet sexually active. Being aware of appropriate sex-related discussions for every age group and having open and clear communication about romantic interests help to overcome this fear.

3. Parental comfort in discussing sex 

Parents have reported they feel embarrassed when discussing sex, making it difficult to know what to say to adolescents. Fears about the perceived skills and tact accompany this reasoning. But by avoiding discussions with adolescents, parents are potentially creating an environment in which adolescents will be reluctant to seek them out for sexual health information. By avoiding and feeling shameful, a parent might convey this message to the child. Talking about sexuality in an open and confident manner will help instead to convey the message that sex and sexuality are normal and not something to be fearful or ashamed of.

4. Demographic factors

Researchers have noted that cultural, political, and demographic factors are associated with parent–adolescent sexual communication. For example, African-American parents report significantly more sexual communication and talk about birth control with their children than Asian-American or Hispanic parents. Mothers communicate with adolescents about sex more than fathers do, especially with daughters. Political and religious beliefs might also influence the probability to start the discussion about sexuality and the content of the discussion. For example, conservative parents are also less likely to believe that birth control and condoms are safe and effective. If parents are aware of these factors, they are more likely to overcome them, providing a more comprehensive and uniform discussion.

REFERENCES

Malacane, Mona; Beckmeyer, Jonathon J. (2016). A Review of Parent-Based Barriers to Parent–Adolescent Communication about Sex and Sexuality: Implications for Sex and Family Educators. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 11(1), 27–40. doi:10.1080/15546128.2016.1146187 

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