The “big talk” – the thought of it can make parents uneasy and children cringe. As in ages past, parents continue to be uncomfortable and uncertain when it comes to sharing information with their children about sex. This challenge is amplified in today’s hypersexualized culture where parents struggle to help children navigate territory that is constantly changing and many times toxic to their child’s health and well-being. Even so, when it comes to young people’s decisions about sex, parents matter a lot. According to research conducted by the National Organization to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (With One Voice 2007, www.teenpregnancy.org ), most teens agree that it is easier for them to postpone sexual activity and teen pregnancy when they are able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents. Parents admit they need help discussing sex with their kids, and teens agree. The vast majority of parents (82%) and two-thirds of teens (66%) agree that when it comes to talking about sex, parents often don’t know what to say, how to say it, or when to start the conversation. Many parents are also surprised to learn that teens say it is parents that influence their decisions about sex more than anyone else – including friends, siblings, religious leaders, teachers, and the media. Research studies also confirm that teens that report feeling closely connected to parents are more likely to abstain from sex, wait until they are older to begin having sex, and have fewer sexual partners.
One of P4T’s primary endeavors in our community is to engage, educate and support parents in efforts to prevent teen pregnancy and youth risk behaviors. On the “home front”, P4T seeks to help families lay a foundation of positive connection and communication. The cornerstone of this foundation is the notion that the “big talk” is not a one-time visit, but an on-going conversation that begins early in a child’s life and continues through the teen years. For the past eight years, P4T has sponsored a “Let’s Talk” education/support series designed to help parents begin and continue conversations and connections that promote healthy child development and respectful/responsible decision-making. Local health professionals, along with Mankato Area Public School guidance counselors have been involved as facilitators of the “Let’s Talk” sessions. Each session of this four-part series shares information about specific stages of child development, beginning in early childhood and continuing through the teen years, and addresses questions/concerns parents bring related to their child’s or family’s experience.