How to Talk to Your Teenage Son
The idea of talking with your teen son about sex, drugs and alcohol may be giving you the willies, but have you thought about what you'd say if he asks about male reproductive organs, acne, healthy eating habits, exercise and everything else that constitutes growing up male? As a mom and the author of a book written especially for boys 13 years and older, Mavis Jukes offers some valuable insight.
iP:The Guy Book deals with some pretty racy topics. Is this book a replacement for parental communication?
MJ:Definitely not. And that's stated right at the front of the book.
The Guy Book should be considered a resource – part of a larger plan to deliver relevant, age-appropriate information to boys. Parents should always be ready to share their philosophical, religious, political, personal viewpoints about the issues in The Guy Book. Your boy is growing up, but he still looks to you for advice and guidance. Parents should also make it clear that they are available to discuss any and all topics in the book about which their boy has a question or concern.
In addition to giving a book such as The Guy Book to their boy, parents should support sex education classes being taught in school and hook him up with his health care professional (i.e. pediatrician) for routine exams and an opportunity for a (confidential) chat. The boy should be encouraged to discuss all aspects of his mental and physical health with his doctor.
iP: What can parents do to feel less anxious about discussing these topics with their teens?
MJ:Parents can be reassured knowing that certain topics in The Guy Book are sensitive and difficult to talk about – and listen to – for everybody. That's one reason why the book was written. Yes, it can be stressful to contemplate bringing up some of these subjects. Some parents find that taking a ride in the car is a good time and place to initiate a talk. That way, you're out in neutral territory – and you can look out the window. But don't expect to cover all of the information at once. There's so much!
Also, know that boys may simply cut the conversation short. And if a parent is just too embarrassed to talk about some of these topics, so be it. Talk with your kid about other things. Keep good communication in place because that sets the stage. Talk about fun stuff, interesting stuff – sports, cars, clothes, movies, music – hang out and listen to music. Whatever – just talk. And listen!
Remember: It's the parent's job to hook their boy up with the information he needs to stay safe and healthy. This does not mean that it all has to be delivered in the form of conversation. The Guy Book is a resource – a backup. If a parent reads it first, which is what I recommend, he or she could say, for example: "Check out the section about how HIV is spread and if you have any questions, I'll try to answer them. If I don't know the answers, I'll try to help you find them."
And keep this in mind: The Guy Book is full of reliable hotline numbers so that a boy and/or his parent can get additional information about many of the more sensitive topics.
iP: Do you think talking about tough issues with a boy is more difficult than talking about those same issues with a girl?
MJ:I think it depends on the boy – and the girl – and the parents involved. I do recognize that there is more of a tradition of a parent (a mom, usually) discussing information around puberty with girls, since girls start having periods at some point. Obviously this needs to be explained – and it needs to be explained in the context of human reproduction (and sex). Girls are the ones who can become pregnant, not boys. So parents have always wanted to be VERY sure that their girl understands how that all happens!
Guys, on the other hand, seem to have a code in place that discourages these conversations. Why? Maybe it's because a boy's dad's dad didn't discuss anything with him but the bare minimum facts of life – if that. Maybe there's no tradition in place because there's no one landmark occurrence to spark "the talk" that's comparable to the onset of menstruation with girls. However, we all need to revise this "guy code." Boys DO appreciate having the information that's in The Guy Book. In fact, they have a right to it.
We need to get real with our boys, especially now, with the laundry list of sexually transmitted diseases out there – including HIV, which still must be regarded as a potentially fatal infection. The bottom line is that kids need to know how to protect their physical well-being. This includes needing to know about the potential for assault perpetrated by a family "friend" or family member or a person in a position of power and authority. Boys also have a right to specific information on how pregnancy occurs – given the ethical, legal, moral and financial responsibilities associated with causing an unplanned pregnancy.
iP: How do you respond to parents who worry that giving their teen explicit information about tough issues will encourage their teen to become involved with sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.?
MJ: Studies have shown that the more kids know about sex, the more likely they are to postpone having sex with a partner.
And consider this: The media is endlessly giving out inappropriate messages to teens about sex, drugs, alcohol, tobacco; teens are being marketed to, especially in movies and on TV. The media promotes sex, drugs, alcohol and tobacco use by teens. Parents should keep this in mind and ask themselves: How can we counter these messages? One way is to make available accurate information about these topics – and by talking to kids very directly about them, all of them. At the same time, helping the kid to become media literate is key.
iP: If parents discover that their teen is already experimenting with sex, drugs and alcohol, what should be their first step in addressing the issue?
I'm not a health care professional and so I can't answer this question. But I would recommend the parent make an appointment to talk with the kid's pediatrician to get advice and develop a strategy. Sex, drugs and alcohol are all problems that are associated with health and can potentially put a kid at risk. Your doctor may have some good advice for you. In addition, your boy may need to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases; he may also need help with substance abuse. He may need to be referred to a counselor or psychologist.
At the same time, the parent can ask the pediatrician for a referral to a good parenting class for parents of adolescents taught by an expert in the field. A good parenting class provides support for the parent as well as insight into teens and ideas on how to improve communication.
Meanwhile, I would recommend a parent spend quality time with his or her boy, plan to have family meals together, plan some fun outings. Keep tabs on who he's hanging out with – and where he's going. How much free time does he have unsupervised? Are there school or community-sponsored activities that you can hook him up with so that he can be physically active and develop his talents and interests?
Let him know how much he's loved and how concerned you are about his health and well-being. Talk about your feelings about sex, drugs and alcohol and the risks that are related to these things. Don't play games here. And don't get into denial mode. There's too much on the line, too much at risk. Recognize that you may need help dealing with the issues and that help is available. Take advantage of the resources that are out there for you.