In the work that I’ve done with young women throughout the years, I’ve come across one important thing: while young people may build their thinking and decisions based on their interaction with their peers, many young people would actually prefer to get facts about sex and sexuality from family members and other trusted adults.
When I was younger, my mom didn’t really talk to be me about sex and sexuality. When it came to sex, my mother spoke more of the consequences of pregnancy, compared to sexually transmitted infections, self-esteem, and even pleasure. As a young person, I wondered why my parents chose to put my sister and I in those classes where that focused more on showing pictures of people with STIs. (You know those classes!)
At the same time, I remember not being comfortable speaking with my mom about sex, sexuality or anything remotely close to it. I perceived that she would shut me down, that she would think I was having sex even when I wasn’t, or I believed that I would be lying and not telling the truth.
Given that I do most of my work with women and girls, today’s post is focused on the mothers and other female caregivers in a young girl’s life. Young people are more likely to open up to parents and caregivers when they feel valued, respected, and that their voices and opinions are going to be heard. Here are 10 reasons your daughter* may not be comfortable talking with you (and some tips you can take to help her open up to you when she’s ready.)
1) You talk AT (or DOWN to) her: No one likes to feel that their outlook or opinion isn’t valued. Not even adults. And when young women and girls feel this way, you definitely won’t get anything out of them. Also, sitting down and having a conversation about anything while you’re the one doing most of the talking won’t cut it. Tip: Let your daughter lead the conversation, and be open to where she takes the conversation. It gives her an added boost of confidence, it helps her to become more comfortable having important conversations with you, and it also helps her to know that you have trust in her.
2) You’re not honest about your life experiences: Sometimes parents want to shield their daughters from something they’ve done in their childhood or adolescence that they may not be proud of. Sharing some of your life experiences can make you more relatable to your daughter. It helps her to know that, while times may have changed since you were her age, there are some facts of sexual life that may never change. Tip: Gauge whether what you want to disclose to your daughter is something that she is capable of handling, and be prepared for the questions that will follow. With that being said, it’s important to make sure that you’re having conversations that are age appropriate (meaning that she’s actually capable of understanding what you’re talking about. And remember: Sometimes the sexuality talk will happen years before you expect it to.)
3) You automatically shut down: Statements like “Because I said so”, “Don’t have sex, period”, or “Wait until you’re married” do not fly anymore. They actually go back to reason #1. Tip: Think about why you close yourself off when your daughter comes to speak with you. Is it due to what she’s asking you about? Do you feel that you don’t have an answer to her question? Does her question make you uncomfortable? Thinking about the barriers beforehand can help you be more open to listening to her, and it helps you to work through your own baggage.
4) She feels forced: Are you forcing her to talk to you about something she’s not ready to discuss? You may run the risk of making her go to someone else to have a conversation around sex when she’s actually ready. Tip: Wait for her to come to you. Or if you really want to test the waters, ask her about something else to get her talking to see if she’s comfortable in speaking about other matters before you begin to talk with her about sexuality (in due time, of course.)
5) Your mindset is “from back in the day”: As in reason #2, some decades may have passed since you were in middle or high school, but there are plenty of things happening today that weren’t a factor when you were growing up. Young people born after 1981 don’t know what it’s like to live in a world without HIV, and these days young women and girls have more to worried about (i.e. sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV) than just pregnancy. Tip: Read up on the latest statistics on teen pregnancy rates, STIs, and HIV/AIDS. The Centers for Disease Control, Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood, SIECUS and Scarleteen are great resources. Also, it’s helpful to learn about different types of birth control. Check out Bedsider for more information.
6) You think her questions are alluding to something that she may or may not actually be doing: Did you like it when your mom accused you of doing things that you actually weren’t doing when you were a teen? Of course you didn’t. So why put your daughter under the same scrutiny? Tip: Don’t jump to conclusions. Instead, ask your daughter for the reason she is asking you something. And not like “Why are you asking me that???” More like “That’s an interesting question. What made you think of it?” It shows that you’re open for discussion.
7) Your mantra is “Do as I say, not as I do”: We’re not trying to make young girls be exactly like us, but when you’re telling your daughter to be in a monogamous relationship and to wait until she’s married to have sex, yet she sees you having multiple men coming in and our of your home and you’re taking at least one pregnancy test a month, something ain’t right! Tip: Adults need to set the best example possible. Your daughter will have more respect for you when she believes that she has someone that she can look up to to help guide her in making good decisions for her health and life.
8) She senses that you don’t know what you’re talking about: You don’t have to be a complete expert in whatever your daughter is asking you about, but you may get called out for lying. Tip: Instead of telling a lie when you don’t know something, tell you daughter that you honestly don’t know the answer. In fact, find out the answer together. Taking the time to look up information to help your daughter is very cool and shows her that you’re willing to help her get the most accurate information as possible.
9) You believe she’s going to follow in your footsteps: This is related to reason #3. In life, we may not make the best decisions, and we often try to steer young people from making the mistakes we have made, but being too paranoid can be a turnoff to your daughter. Tip: Use your life experience as an opportunity to have meaningful, honest conversation with your daughter. It’ll be better for you in the long run, and she’ll thank you for it.
10) She’s afraid of disappointing you: You may not be a parent that believes your daughter’s questions are alluding to something else, but what happens when your daughter actually discloses something important? You may not like what she tells you, but you also don’t want to make her feel worse. Tip: Let your daughter know that you’re there for her, despite any disappointment you may be feeling. When you’re able to move past your own anger, confusion, and disappointment and pay more attention to what’s your daughter needs, it’ll make her feel much better.
*By the way: I’m using “daughter” as a universal term. Feel free to focus on your niece, grandchild, younger female sibling, female cousin, etc.