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Health & Parenting

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Talking with Your Teen -- David Elkind, PhD


Member question: I have four kids, the oldest being 13. When should I talk to her about sex and peer pressure into having sex, doing drugs, foul language, etc.? How do I approach these subjects and still get her to listen and understand?

Elkind: It's very important to talk to young people about sex, not just sexual relations but also about their bodies and maturation. Young people often don't know about the changes going on in their bodies, and the information is very useful; a book like Our Bodies Ourselves is an excellent one for this age group.

Talking about sexual relations is difficult but often parents can use a vehicle such as a movie or book; for example, the movie American Beauty talks about issues that come up and you can address them as long as you make it clear every time you watch a movie you won't be talking about sex. But it makes it a little easier than talking about it in the abstract.

As far as drugs and alcohol use, certainly kids hear a lot at school and with their friends and so on. Probably the best way is by example.

A child may learn about not smoking at school and then throw his mother/father's cigarettes in the garbage. When they become a teen, they are more likely to smoke than not to smoke. The same is true with drug and alcohol abuse. The best way to teach young people about responsible alcohol use and not smoking is by parental example. That is the most important determinant of whether children will abuse these things when they become adults.

Member question: I think kids learn a lot about the biology of sex, but very little about the emotions involved. I want to talk with them about the feelings involved, but they are embarrassed. I think the biology is only one part. And in school they can't talk about emotions and values. Do you think I'm on the right track?

Elkind: Yes. That's what I was talking about with the use of a fiction story, play, or movie. There are a lot of feelings involved. It's about the human relations, and that's what we have to stress. It's not just plumbing, it's respect and consideration for the other's feelings. And that is so important in any relationship, not just a sexual relationship.

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