Love, Sex, and Teens: How to Have “The Talk”

There are few things that parents of teens dread more than “The Talk.” Flashes of awkward silences, and even more awkward conversations, tend to come to mind when adults contemplate this milestone. Yet, according to a recent study done at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, teens really do want clear and direct advice, from adults, about relationships. The study, which was part of Harvard’s Making Caring Common project found that adolescents want advice on everything from “how to develop a mature relationship,” to “how to handle break-ups,” which illustrates the need for adults to go beyond the birds and the bees metaphors when talking to their kids.

Okay, so young adults want to learn about relationships.

What’s the best way to teach them?

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who co-authored the study says that parents and teachers would do well to: 1) make themselves known as relationship experts, with years of experience, and 2) create a safe space for teens to feel comfortable asking questions and taking suggestions.

One teacher, Matthew Lippman, out of Beaver County Day School in Chestnut Hill, MA is doing just that. He teaches a course called “Memoir: Love,” in which he encourages kids to talk about their relationship issues. He believes that kids know the best way to guide these conversations, but he also employs the use of popular culture and other forms of media to give the talks some context. Some of his favorite teaching materials include:

  • Rainer Marie Rilke’s “Letters To A Young Poet’
  • Matthew Dickman and Tracy K. Smith’s poetry
  • Leslie Jamison’s “The Empathy Exams”
  • Roxane Gay’s “Bad Feminist”
  • W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe”
  • Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”
  • U2’s “One”

We love this idea, because it’s something that parents can do too. Having a poem, or piece of music that you really relate to, and being able to share a conversation about love and relationships based on that with your children is a beautiful thing!

Not a big music or poetry fan? No problem! Try using your own experience as a starting point. You can begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What was healthy/unhealthy about your past relationships?
  • What made them that way?
  • What would you have done differently if you could?
  • Were there any warning signs that you ignored?
  • How would you respond differently today to those red flags?

Besides talking about your own past relationships, you also want to help your teens learn how to handle ethical dilemmas, like what to do when you know that your friend’s boyfriend is cheating on her, or what, exactly constitutes consent. Part of this conversation will naturally gravitate towards empathy, which is defined as the capacity to understand what someone else is feeling or experiencing from the other person’s point of view. Learning to empathize with others is an enormously important skill, not only for building positive relationships, but also for preventing misunderstandings, and maybe even tragedies.

If you would like to learn more about how to talk to your teens about love and relationships, contact us. We are here to help!


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