Several years back, I co-facilitated a workshop called “Keepin’ It Real Around the Kitchen Table: Sparking the Discussion About Sex Between Teens and Families”. I’ve facilitated this workshop on and off throughout the years, and while the audience dynamic changes every time I facilitate this workshop, one thing remains the same: 1) Adults feel that young people don’t listen to them, and 2) young people feel that adults don’t listen to them either.
As a subject matter, sexuality requires consistent discussion tailored around the young person’s developmental level. A young person’s family can be a resource that is often underutilized and underdeveloped as an avenue for intervention. In general, when trust and mutual understanding are at the forefront, young people are more likely to talk with their parents, guardians, older siblings, and other trusted adults, and in turn it builds the confidence necessary to discuss more serious subject matters. When these elements are missing, it’s easy for young adults to get involved in activities that can put their health at risk.
Why Keepin’ It Real is Important
In many cultures, sitting around the kitchen table to share meals opens up the opportunity to share what’s going on in our lives. This can lead to frank and honest discussion about a variety of topics (often referred to as keepin’ it real). When it comes to having conversations that can shape how we view our bodies and our lives, keeping it real is required, and should be tailored in such a way that it respects the sexual emergence of young people at various developmental levels. The family dynamic (birth and chosen) can provide a safe space for these conversations. Talking about sexuality can be extremely difficult, but with patience, understanding, and a willingness to learn, adults can be viewed as a beneficial and accessible resource for young people (and they can also learn from young people in the process).
Before any type of discussion on sex and sexuality comes up, it’s important to see just how…“askable” you really are. Advocates for Youth created this nifty guide called “Are You an Askable Parent?” that I tend to highlight as a resource for youth and adults alike. I tend to notice that adults oftentimes will wait until their young person brings up the subject of sex and sexuality before they decide on how best to approach the conversation. By that time, the adult is so flustered that the conversation goes nowhere, leaving both the adult and the young person with no clear sense of what just happened. I give some tips here on how to speak with a young person when the topic of sexual health comes up. If you’ve read those tips, awesome! If not, click the link (this link right here), read them, and come on back. I’ll wait…
Now that we have the tips in mind, let’s put them into action.
The A & B Conversation
The A & B Conversation is an improvisational exercise that allows you to step outside of situations to get a more diverse view on just how we communicate. Do this exercise in pairs of two, with the adult being partner A and the young person being partner B. Decide on a situation to improvise, and using a timer, improvise the situation for 1 minute. After the timer stops, reset it, and partner A takes on the role of partner B. This is where the real fun begins.
Here are some situations that you can improvise, ranging from easy to maybe not-so-easy (depending on your perspective):
Partners A & B are in a car together, and a song full of sexual suggestions from back in the day comes on. Partner B (the young person) asks partner A (the adult) about the meaning of the lyrics.
Partner B (the young person) comes home from school and shares with partner A (the adult) that a classmate has disclosed her pregnancy to her classmates and has decided that she wants to get an abortion.
Partners A & B are watching TV together when a Trojan condom commercial comes on. Partner B (the young person) asks partner A (the adult) if s/he has ever had unprotected sex.
Partner B (the young person) asks partner A (the adult) if s/he was a virgin before her/his wedding night.
Partner A (the adult) comes home earlier than expected and walks in on partner B (the young person) having a sexual encounter with a classmate.
You can make up as many situations as you want. The situations are limitless. Be sure to sit down and process what took place during the situations and discuss any observations made. Discuss any issues, conflict, or triggers that came up during the activity, as well as your knee-jerk reaction that you had while in your role as either partner A or partner B. Together with your partner, come up with ways to strengthen your communication with each other based on the situations you’ve improvised. If you find that you weren’t very knowledgeable on a topic, do more research on it and get advice from someone who is knowledgeable on the topic. If you found that one topic made you uncomfortable, think about if it was the subject matter or your own personal views on the subject that cause you to react in the way you improvised. This activity can be a first step on the road to helping young people become more comfortable in speaking with adults on a variety of subjects, and it can also help adults become more open to understanding young people, as oppose to being tempted to shut down and say, “Don’t do it” or the infamous “Because I said so!”