If you’ve ever been here before, especially lately, you are aware that I feel very strongly about something I’ve dubbed “explicit parenting“. I am a proponent of having conversations with kids about what is important no matter how uncomfortable these conversations will be (And trust me, they WILL be uncomfortable). It’s been proven again and again in various studies that teenagers actually do listen to their parents in a variety of situations about myriad topics and I intend to capitalize on that by sharing my values and decision making ideals with my kids as often as I can while they’re still listening.
The problem is, when you try to talk about things with your kids, it can feel really unnatural and awkward, and when you wait until they come to you in a more authentic way, the information may not be all that you wish to share. I mean, I’ve been lucky to turn a random comment into a racism conversation but lord knows we’ve also covered the mechanics of sex way more often than any of us would like and we rarely transition to the relationships that go along with the act. My little crew has had plenty of experience with bullies, and we mostly talk about how to avoid being one. What we have a harder time getting at are the feelings behind all of this and how to manage those feelings in a healthy way. Talking to kids about the feelings behind being human is just as important as knowing the hows and whys of things like sex and friendship. But how do we do it?
One component of my job as a sexual violence counselor and advocate is to outreach to the community, in my case, schools, to talk about wildly awkward topics like sexual consent and healthy relationships. I find straightforward and honest works best. Luckily, I have Power Points and cases of Twizzlers and Sour Patch Kids to hide behind when I’m in front of 20-60 middle and high schoolers. I’m the anonymous adult who comes in to chat (gosh, I hope they never think lecture) about stuff they’d all like to know about, but never want to actually hear from a grown up’s lips. In my home, my kids are equally horrified by my straightforward style and there are no slide shows or candy to break the ice.
With The Girl, I used to drop puberty books on her bed and tell her to come to me with any questions. Later, I sat with her and watched television shows from the WB or my own teenage favorites on Netflix and pointed out stuff that I wanted her to replicate or avoid at all costs. The conversations are always more smooth for both my kids and I when they are in the context of something else we’re watching or doing.
Just launching into a conversation on bullying or peer pressure or sex really isn’t fun for anyone. But using what they are already seeing? Well, that helps everyone feel a little less weird.
With my boys, the game has changed. They are both all-small-screen-all-the-time. Whether it’s Japanese Anime or lectures on the debt ceiling, my guys love videos on any channel they can access from an iPod or phone. The catalysts for our conversations are very often YouTube videos, or the Buzz Feed memes they’ve seen on Instagram. So, I’m on the lookout for any tool I can use to start a conversation or at least for things to casually mention (like books dropped on the bed) that they can access on their own time in their private spaces without mom’s peering glances.
Recently, I discovered AMAZE, which is a collaboration between three organizations doing the hard work for teens in the relationship arena. Amaze videos cover everything from the mechanics of sex (if you still need that) to the feelings behind healthy relationships between pairs and mates alike (like, When will I be ready for sex? or What does real friendship look like?). The best part about Amaze is that there are not only resources for parents who want information on how to start these conversations, but there is a whole YouTube channel that kids can directly access themselves to learn more or I can send them to to begin learning about a variety of topics that are important to all of us. There are plenty of “mechanics” videos there if you haven’t yet exhausted those topics as we have. And there are also wonderful videos addressing all the feelings behind the mechanics that we often skirt around or don’t get to in one dinner conversation.
As a mom, I love having the option of Amaze to share with my kids. I can feel safe the videos are appropriate, both developmentally and in their inclusivity. I don’t want to inadvertently send any messages about sexuality while my kids are still figuring out who they are. Amaze videos ensure I won’t. These videos don’t take the place of good conversation, but they sure can help stimulate it and even be there for follow up questions when looking mom or dad in the eye may not do.
So, go and like the Amaze Facebook page, for videos and a whole mess of curated content to make parents feel more supported in their conversational efforts. After all, explicit parenting is even more wonderful with built in back up support.
I think I know what I’ll be suggesting to my boys for their viewing pleasure.
To read advice from other parents who have written about talking to kids about sex, consent, and healthy relationships, visit these posts:
- Sex Education from a Mom’s Perspective by Lisa from Mom on the Side
- Awkward Isn’t an Excuse for Giving Up by Amanda Magee
- Making the Hard Conversations Easier by Tandra Wilkerson from Thriller Mom
- Single moms, you are your child’s most important sex educator (deep breaths) by Jessica Ashley from Single Mom Nation
- Healthy Relationships Have Never Been My Thing, But I Want Them to Be Hers by Leah Campbell
- How to Talk About Healthy Relationships with Tweens and Teens by Leticia Barr from Tech Savvy Mama
This post was compensated with the support of The Mission List. I would have written it for free. I jumped at the chance to share about AMAZE and talk about tough conversations with kids. It was a natural fit and of course, all opinions are my own.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.