For many parents, talking to their kids about sex is incredibly awkward, no matter what age the child may be. However, the truth is that these are important conversations, especially when a young person is about to enter a new stage of life and social development.
Entering college as a freshman is eye-opening in a number of ways. If a young person is living away from home for the first time, the freedom can be both exciting and frightening, and encourage behavior that isn’t necessarily safe or healthy. While a lot of decisions might mean a diet of pizza, a few failed quizzes and a talk with the RA, others can lead to things like disease, unwanted pregnancy and even abuse. This is why it’s important to ensure your high school senior knows about safe sex before getting to college.
Ideally, discussions about sexual health and safety have taken place several times over the years, beginning when children are small and first discovering their bodies, and evolving with time as those children grow and explore. Of course, for a variety of reasons, this isn’t the case in many families, and parents suddenly get nervous when an older teen is about to leave the nest. If you’re finding yourself in such a situation, here are some thoughts on what you can say and do to guide your child into this new stage of life.
Open the Channels
The first thing you have to do is get the conversation started. It might be easiest to bluntly state that the topic can be uncomfortable. Be clear that any question is welcome and hesitancy to talk is understood. Maybe before the topic becomes verbal, you can conveniently place a few good books about sexuality in your home. Then, after a week or two, ask if your teen has any questions or interest in more material. Treat the topic as normal or common and your child will learn to see it as such.
Find a Balance
Although many parents want to be the primary source of information when it comes to sex, that’s not always realistic for 18-year-olds. Try to determine their comfort level and how much they really need to talk to you about sexual matters. Accept that they might have experiences that unsettle you, and they don’t necessarily want to discuss in depth. Forcing too much information could do more harm than good, as could heavy emphasis on adherence to (or lack of) a particular morality.
Listen Without Judgment
If your child is willing to talk openly, you want to encourage that. One of the best ways to do that is by setting your own feelings and opinions aside. Unless something strikes you as dangerous, such as behavior that can mean abuse, unwanted pregnancy or disease, try to stay objective. Provide advice that is compassionate and evidence-based. There is certainly nothing wrong with having a personal stance, but it must be shared as just that — your stance.
Suggest Trusted Resources
Because your teens will be leaving home soon, you’ll want to know what resources will be available for them on campus. This is anything from safety measures for students walking after dark to stores selling condoms to medical facilities treating STIs. Also investigate what groups and staff members are available for support. Without frightening young people into thinking a threat is around every corner, make them aware of these resources, and detach any shame from the use of them.
As a parent, you have every right to be concerned right now, and it’s all right to show this emotion to your teen. However, being fearful of sex and uneducated about sexual health will not help them navigate the hormone-drenched dorm halls. Think about the points addressed above, become comfortable with the topic yourself, and you’ll give your college freshman the tools to stay safe, healthy and happy.