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Teens need 'Askable Adults'

By Beth Olson

Welcome back!

It’s time for round two of How To Talk About Sex With Teens!. Last month, we established that talking about sex and relationships is hard … but not an excuse to avoid the topic. Young people still look to adults for answers, advice, and support.

Now what?

I promise to cover the substantive part of “the sex talks” soon. But first, it’s important to understand how to build relationships with teens that are based on trust and mutual respect. Understand how to listen more and react less. Understand how to discuss your values without judgement. How to become an Askable Adult.

What is an Askable Adult?

Think of Askable Adults as informal mentors -- safe, informed grown-ups that teens can turn to for help navigating complex situations like sex and relationships.

Askable Adults can be:

  • Parents

  • Grandparents

  • Teachers

  • Faith Leaders

  • Coaches

  • Anyone else who works with youth

Askable Adults are confident in their ability to discuss tough issues with teens and approach each conversation with an open mind.

… don’t let that last sentence scare you.

Becoming an Askable Adult is a learned skill. And if you trust the process and trust yourself, you and your kids can learn how to navigate adolescence together.

Here are a few tips for becoming an Askable Adult...

Be respectful. Adolescence is hard, and it’s easy for adults to dismiss typical teen angst as part of growing up. While their struggles may seem insignificant, teens’ emotions are genuine and important to them. Show them you care what they’re going through.

Don’t dismiss their questions. Something that’s obvious to you may not be for them. This goes a long way in building trust.

Talk to teens in a warm, non-judgmental tone. Make sure your responses don’t leave them feeling ashamed for situations they find themselves in or for asking graphic questions. You want them to feel safe being vulnerable with you.

Listen. Actively listen. Put down your phone. Make eye contact. Don’t talk over them and resist the temptation to lecture. Let teens lead the conversation. Sometimes it’s just as important to hear what they aren’t saying to you.

Be honest. Be direct. Honesty is another way to show respect. And teens are smart. They know if you’re not telling the truth, and lying hurts the mutual trust you’ve worked hard to create. In that same vein, don’t talk around an issue … even if it’s awkward. Power through! I promise you’ll feel better if you do.

Be proactive. Be open to answering questions, but also be prepared to bring up important issues with them. Driving your kid to the next extracurricular activity? Perfect time to have a short teachable moment.

For example, “Never Have I Ever” is a popular show on Netflix right now. Pick out a storyline or just ask what they think about the show. How does the show portray teens? How does the show portray sex and dating? Is it realistic? And if the conversation doesn’t go as planned, the car ride will end eventually. You can always try again!

“I don’t know.” No one expects you to know all the answers. But be honest if you’re stuck. Don’t try to answer a question on the fly and regret it later. Try responses like, “I’m not sure. I need to look that up.” Or “I need to think about that. Let’s circle back tomorrow.” … and then don’t forget to actually answer their questions.

Don’t overreact. Not every difficult situation is a crisis. Try not to immediately react to comments, questions, or experiences. You will be much more influential if you listen with an open mind and create a thoughtful response.

It’s OK to laugh! Look. I don’t care who you are. Talking to teens about sex can be A-W-K-W-A-R-D. So, acknowledge it! Laugh about it! Moms, it’s okay to show your daughters a silly meme about periods and laugh! When appropriate, laughter is a great way to break down barriers.

Remember that teens are capable humans. It’s easy to underestimate young people’s ability to make mature, responsible decisions. Will they always make the right decision? Absolutely not. But we should probably give them the benefit of the doubt more than we do.

Be open to new ideas and be willing to learn! It’s okay if you’re overwhelmed. This is a lot of information to take in...and you don’t have to do it alone.

Prosper Waco offers a free Askable Adults Matter training that’s available to anyone in Waco. We take a deeper dive into each of these skills, talk about sexual health, and use real-life scenarios to practice different strategies.

This training is helpful for all adults. Parents, faith leaders, youth-serving organizations, leadership development programs. Anyone. We all have teens who look to us for answers.

Contact Beth Olson for more information.

Up next month: FAQ: Adolescent Sexual Health and Sex Education

Beth Olson is director of adolescent health initiatives with Prosper Waco.

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