Parents, children urged to talk about sex

April 03, 2003|By Fay Lande

Parents and children were urged to talk openly with each other about sex and sexuality at Family Communication Night on Monday at the Glenwood library.

"Become an askable parent," said Peggy Schultz, pupil personnel worker with Howard County schools. "Kids are getting information from the entire world. We have a right and responsibility to share our values. What they [learn] in school is the plumbing stuff."

But faced with the conflicting pulls of respecting their children's growing autonomy and a sense that their middle-schoolers had entered an unfamiliar world, some parents wavered.

"I think the hardest [question] for me would be along the lines of oral sex: `What is it, and why do you do it?'" said Barb Cusack in the breakout session for parents, held while the kids made collages of "sexy" images from teen magazines in another room. "I would say, `How would you respond to that, if somebody asks you to do that?' "

After watching a video on communication skills, parents and children filled out a brief questionnaire. Laura Smit of the Coalition for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention helped lead the event. She read the answers aloud.

How much control should parents have over their children's dating?

They should not control, several parents wrote, only advise. Otherwise, resentment can build.

None, a youngster wrote, because the parent doesn't know the person the way the child does.

"Right!" a father guffawed.

"TV shows give wonderful opportunities to talk with your children about relationships," Schultz said. "Watch with them occasionally."

But opportunities offered by the mass media were seen by some to be double-edged. When the children returned with their collages, one mother studied the shiny images mounted on corrugated cardboard: a naked model curled up on a bed of green leaves; an ad for down2there low-ride jeans; a couple playing Twister, the girl's body arched over the boy's.

"What do you think of that?" she asked.

On the whole, parents and children called the evening a success.

"I'm glad that I have a mom that I can actually talk to; some kids don't have that," said Trazahra Branham, 13.

Family Communication Night, which included dinner and dessert, was planned by the Western Horizon Council, a citizens group that advises the Horizon Foundation.

An independent, not-for-profit public charity, the foundation was established in 1998 as a result of the merger of Johns Hopkins Medicine with Howard County General Hospital. Its mission is to promote health and wellness in the county.

The council has chosen to focus on dialogue and the influence of mass culture on children's behavior. Programs are in the works on children's social uses of the Internet, and drinking and drug use among middle-schoolers. Family Communication Night may be repeated, said Jean Moon, community relations consultant to Horizon.

"It's very clear that there's a hunger for discussion among parents about the best ways of helping their children grow older in a safe and healthy way," she said.

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