`The Talk' from teens' perspective

May 04, 1999|By Susan Reimer

THE SEX TALK used to be a 10-minute lecture with no eye contact delivered by a parent who seemed to be leaking from the armpits. It is a whole different thing now.

Today, the sex talk is supposed to be a "lifelong conversation and conveyance of values."

What that means to most parents and teens is that the awkward moment when your father wordlessly handed you a condom or that day when a box of sanitary products mysteriously appeared on your bed has been stretched out to the horizon.

The sex talk can now happen at any time, night or day, in the name of teachable moments. Oh god, how awful for us all.

Ever wonder what your kids are thinking as you stutter and fumble your way through another one of these value-added talks? It is supposed to be a conversation about sex, but for most parents it is still a lecture. Your kids are more likely to endure it than engage in it.

What are they thinking?

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy offers a glimpse inside the heads of our teens with its new tip sheet: "Talking Back: Ten Things Teens Want Parents to Know about Teen Pregnancy."

Gleaned from the continuing reports and polls and focus groups and interviews that fuel the National Campaign's efforts, these 10 "talking points" are the other half of the conversation that might not be happening in your home.

"We may have corrected some spelling," says Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign. "But these are the words of young people themselves."

No. 1: "Show us why teen pregnancy is such a bad idea." Kids want to hear from teen mothers and fathers themselves. They want real people, not a vague lecture about consequences from adults.

No. 2: "Talk to us honestly about love, sex and relationships." Feelings of love can be overpowering for a young person, and with those feelings can come an urgent instinct to explore the physical side of love. They need to know from adults how to get command of these wild feelings and fashion a relationship out of them.

No. 3: "Telling us not to have sex is not enough." "Just say no" doesn't work. We must tell kids why they should wait to have sex. "We can't just announce that they should not," says Brown. "That sounds like a lecture, not the beginning of a conversation."

No. 4: "Whether we're having sex or not, we need to be prepared." Long before a child is crossing the street on his own, parents are busy explaining that he must look both ways and wait for the signal to change. Sex is the same way. Preparation doesn't mean kids have permission to have sex, it just means they will be prepared when they do.

No. 5: "If we ask you about sex or birth control, don't assume we are already having sex." Parents are often accusatory and suspicious when their children ask questions, Brown says. "They may indeed be having sex and, in that case, they need the information," she says. "But sometimes, kids are just curious."

No. 6: "Pay attention to us before we get into trouble." Brown explained that teens understand that teen mothers and fathers need a lot of support if they are to succeed. "But they wonder why, when they are managing to do the right thing, is no one paying attention to them?"

No. 7: "Sometimes, all it takes not to have sex is not to have the opportunity." At a meeting of the campaign's young advisers earlier this year, Brown opened the discussion by asking the teens what they would say to adults if they could say anything.

"I expected that one of the first things out of their mouths would be, `Don't lecture us.' Instead, it was this: `Don't leave us alone so much.' " It was a poignant moment, she said, that cut to the heart of how teens feel about more than just sex.

No. 8: "We really care what you think, even if we don't always act like it." This point comes up again and again in surveys, polls and interviews: Kids want to hear from their parents. They may not choose to do exactly as we instruct them, but our ideas can't help but inform their thinking.

No. 9: "Show us what good, responsible relationships look like." Sharing, caring and communicating are best taught by demonstration.

And finally, No. 10: "We hate `The Talk' as much as you do." Instead, start young and keep the conversation going, the teens told Brown.

Oh my. Out of the mouths of babes.

Pub Date: 5/04/99

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