Deborah Roffman spoke at TCS in January to offer her guidance on a task many parents find challenging: talking about sex with their children. In her discussion, she will give you the tools and words to answer your children’s questions and send the right message about values, boundaries and good decision-making.
Roffman proposes thinking of sexuality as simply another aspect of life and human development, not a “special” topic that needs to be kept from children until they’re older. In her newest book, Talk to Me First, she notes that the same parenting skills that apply to other areas of life, such as encouraging a child to be a good student, also apply to sexuality. Her insight is that children have five core needs when it comes to sexuality: affirmation, information, clarity about values, setting limits and anticipatory guidance. This “five-piece suit of parenthood” is a helpful framework for becoming your child’s first and most trusted resource around sexuality, as outlined below:
- Affirmation: Unconditional love and acceptance, which includes acknowledging your children as sexual beings and being open to all their questions.
- Information: Children need factual knowledge about sexuality, presented in ongoing and age-appropriate ways.
- Clarity about values: Name the values you want your child to have in a relationship, such as honesty, respect and safety. When you see something that doesn’t uphold those values, such as an advertisement or TV show, point it out to your child. Be your child’s cultural interpreter.
- Limit setting: Children want and need limits. It’s your job to set reasonable boundaries to keep your child safe.
- Anticipatory guidance: “What if …” conversations help kids problem-solve and think through situations they may face. This will prepare them for times when they will need to rely on themselves to make responsible and healthy (sexual) choices.
The affirming message Roffman offers is that “parents can be the consistent voice of reason and reality that helps kids make wise decisions.” In her view, it’s crucial to start talking about sexuality when your children are young. “We know from decades of research that children and adolescents raised by adults who educate and converse with them about sexuality grow up in healthier ways than their peers,” she explains. “For example, while some experts might hold that ‘knowing leads to doing’ or some other unwanted effect, research shows just the opposite is true: Kids with this kind of guidance and support significantly postpone involvement in sexual behaviors as they mature. Keeping them in the dark, in other words, is the real danger here.” She also wants to remind parents that children will be flooded with information about sex and relationships—much of it misleading—from advertisers and the media, pop culture and peers. With her long experience talking with children about their concerns, questions and fears, Roffman believes that parents should play an active role, from an early age, in preparing their children to make healthy, empathic and ethical decisions around sexuality.
As you’ll find on her website, http://sexandsensibility.net, Deborah Roffman has written three wise and encouraging books to help parents with almost any question or situation that may arise around sexuality education. She was named one of Time magazine’s “Top 16 Parenting Experts for the 21st Century” and served on the National Advisory Council for Sexual Health. We are fortunate to have her as a speaker on this deeply important aspect of parenting.
Looking forward to an informative conversation!