Guest blogging today with regular contributor Mario Cruz, MD, is Nova Ashanti, MD, a pediatric resident at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.
While you may not want to be reminded about your child’s rapidly changing body and emerging sexuality (yikes!), puberty remains a life transition that parents and teens must navigate together.
During puberty, children are especially vulnerable to depression and to participating in a number of risky behaviors. Regular conversations with your child may help them deal better with these physical and emotional changes.
The following are some Do’s and Don’ts that can help to guide you:
Don’t: Underestimate the significant impact that you can have on your child’s behaviors.
In one study, parent-child communication about sexual health was associated with decreased sexual activity and increased confidence to refuse sex. Those teens who did have sex were more likely to use condoms and other contraceptives.
Do: Seek advice from your neighbors, friends, and pediatrician. Ask, “How did you talk about this with your children?”, “What would you have done differently?”, and “What advice would you have for me?”
Don’t: Assume that your children “already know everything” about puberty and sex.
Yes, teens are learning about puberty and sex from movies, television, music videos and friends, but none of these sources are better than you. Most states (including Pennsylvania), do NOT require sex education in schools. Even if they do, you cannot assume that they are teaching what you want them to teach. Health educational experiences vary greatly depending on your school district. This information can often be found on your school district’s website.
Do: Be honest about your feelings regarding dating, sex, and marriage.
In another study, teens who had more conversations about sexual health with their parents, instead of their friends, were more likely to believe that sex should wait until marriage.
Don’t: Fit everything into a single conversation about the birds and the bees.
You might remember having “the talk” with your parents. However, when it comes to your own children, having frequent, smaller talks can be more effective. Use every day experiences to broach the topic. For example, in watching a movie or TV show with your child, you have probably bumped into an embarrassing love scene. You either ignored what happened or awkwardly changed the channel. Instead, use this as an opportunity to find out what your child thinks and to voice your own opinions about this behavior.
Don’t: Take any of the eye rolling or exaggerated sighing to heart. Their eyes might be looking away from you but their ears are still open! Your children might be embarrassed but research shows that they still want to learn from you. As a starting point, try asking your child what they already know about puberty.
Do: Embrace the power of the internet. A simple search, “How do I talk to my child about puberty”, will find helpful books, articles, websites and parenting blogs about this topic. Here are some helpful websites from Boston Children's Hospital, KidsHealth, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That’s all of the advice that we have for now. What advice do YOU have for other parents raising teens and tweens?