Help with the tough stuff

Local Planned Parenthood programs help families get the conversation started

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As parents, we all want the best for our children and teens. We teach them right from wrong, we help them with their homework, we encourage their hobbies, and when the time is right, we talk about sex and relationships to help them make the best decisions they can.

From the very first questions about sexuality — like “Where do babies come from?” — parents might seize up with anxiety. And we know the questions are only going to get more difficult as they grow.

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Whether you have a preschooler questioning the logic of a stork delivering his baby sister or a teenager who wants to go on birth control, there are plenty of ways to make talking about sex with your kids a healthy, productive discussion.

And Planned Parenthood is here to help. More than just a health care provider, Planned Parenthood has made education and family planning its mission for the last 100 years. In addition to their 700 health centers nationwide, Planned Parenthood provides educational programs for parents and teens like the “Let’s Talk” program held every October.

“Let’s Talk Month provides an opportunity to highlight the important role that parents play as the primary sexuality educators of their own children and emphasize that honest, open communication in families has significant benefits,” says Jessie Moore, MPH, CHES, and sexuality education coordinator for Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley, a local chapter established in 1934.

During the month-long program, sex education providers and advocates across the country encourage parents to communicate with their children about sexuality. Sexuality comprises a wide range of topics including relationships, bodies and body image, reproduction, gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and preventing pregnancy and STDs.

“Our aim is to encourage parents to talk with their children about sexuality and relationships, and provide resources to facilitate these conversations,” Moore says. “We encourage teens to start conversations with their parents or other trusted adults, and deepen the public’s understanding of Planned Parenthood’s role as a sex education provider and resource.”

In 2014, Planned Parenthood produced a television watch guide to help parents use television as a way to talk with their children more often and more in-depth, covering topics like healthy relationships, body image, sexual orientation, gender identity, birth control and condoms, STDs, social media and online safety, and unintended pregnancy. The guide drew on examples from television shows and provide sample questions that parents can use as conversation-starters.”

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If you want to bring up the discussion yourself, Moore advises seizing on teachable moments that naturally present themselves. If you’re watching a movie with your child and a sex scene comes on, don’t automatically change the channel — it will only make your child curious. A good option is to either pause the movie or bring it up later and insert your values into the conversation.

“You can say to your child, hey, did you notice they weren’t using protection in that scene?” Moore says. “Once you’ve had a couple of these conversations, your child will feel more comfortable asking you about things they hear on the school bus or from friends, because you’ve talked about it before and didn’t freak out. Even if you’re freaking out on the inside,” she says.

You can also bring books and pamphlets home to get conversations going. Although it may be awkward, the more accurate information your kids have, the more able they will be to make healthy decisions. “How old was your child when you first told him cigarettes were yucky?” Moore says. “If you talk to them about that throughout their lives, when it comes time for them to decide whether or not to smoke, you’ll hopefully be sitting on their shoulder as they make that decision.”

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If you don’t know an answer to a question, tell your child that — and then look it up together. This will build trust and present the opportunity to help your child learn how to weed out accurate and inaccurate information when looking for information about sexuality online.

If you’re having trouble navigating these waters on your own, there are resources that can help. Planned Parenthood of the Mid-Hudson Valley offers a variety of programming to help facilitate communication about sexuality among kids and caregivers. They offer workshops on adolescent development to help caregivers put their child’s behavior and moods in context, as well as workshops to help parents understand what kids legally can and cannot access in New York State.

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They also run a texting hotline that provides medically accurate answers to questions teens text in.

“ICYC: In Case You’re Curious is a free sexual health textline for teens,” Moore says. “All they have to do is text PPMHV to 57890. They'll receive a confirmation text. Then they text their questions whenever they have them. They'll receive a response within 24 hours.”

So the next time a sex-related topic comes up, don’t panic. It may be awkward at first, but the more trust and understanding you build with your child, the safer and healthier he or she will be.

Elora Tocci is a freelance writer born and raised in the Hudson Valley. She currently works as a communications manager for Teach For America in New York City.

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