Tuesday, March 18

Talk to Me First - Deborah Ruffman on Sex and Teens

Deborah Ruffman


March 18–19, 2014
Talk To Me First (Link to The BOOK)

Common Sense About Kids and Sex
Deborah Roffman is a nationally acclaimed educator and writer with over 30 years of experience working with children and adolescents. She urges parents to be the most approachable, reliable sources for our children’s sexuality education. Her advice for inviting natural, ongoing dialogs about sex is crucial to ensuring our children’s emotional health and countering the influences of a media-saturated culture. Ms. Roffman’s books includeTalk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ “Go-To” Person About Sex and Sex and Sensibility.  On March 18, Ms. Roffman will address her remarks to the parents of teens and present strategies for guiding young adults toward healthy sexual relationships

I loved this talk. It was a real call to get talking to our kids early and often about sex. My notes are unmassaged but I think the essential points are important enough that they should be shared in any form possible so until I'm able to package it more nicely, here they are in their roughest form.

Most important research finding is that parents really matter.  Children who grow up in families in which sexuality (gender, sex and reproduction) is openly discussed,  and children are assisted in learning how to think critically and deeply, those children grow up healthier in all ways.  

With every 6 months that children postponed getting involved in risky behaviors the healthier they are.  When they become involved they tend to do so with much greater foresight and insight.  Our culture tends to introduce sexuality in ways that are sensationalistic and reductionistic (reducing complicated people, experiences and lives) to stereotypes and characatuers.   

Hoop-ups, sexting...they are soundbytes made up by the media to grab attention.  

Talk about it at the dinner table.  Even if they don’t participate they are getting the message that it’s important and worth talking about.   The process of dialogue that teaches children how to think about sex, gender and reproduction.   It almost doesn’t matter what you talk about but  giving the message that this is important topic and is worth thinking about.

The eye rolling is just that they have to let you know that there is at least one part of them that doesn’t want to listen to what you have to say.

How to engage in dialogue:

What are the issues:

Pregnancy and STDs
Female empowerment and enjoyable sexuality
Notion of sex as an act of human intimacy
How to think deeply about sex in a culture that trivializes and simplifies it
Helping kids develop their own values and knowing if they’re ready (what do you really want!?)  (K?)

Q:What does a teenage girl want from her dad?  
A: Same as she wants from her mom.  Everyday people in their life.  The Five Core Needs!

Clear difference between who belongs in the category of child (including teens) and adult.  How do you make the transition from the child paradigm to the adult paradigm?  A: Children are totally dependent and our job is to take them from total dependence to independence.  They come into the world with five needs that they cannot meet on their own.  The nurturing adults meet them and then gradually teach them how to meet their own needs at which point they are adults.  

Five Core Needs and the Corresponding Adult Roles

Need #1: Affirmation

a. Unconditional Love and Acceptance for who your child IS.  This does not necessarily include their behavior.  

b. Simple Acknowledgement and Validation.  (ie Tongue-biting and instead reflecting back what you’re hearing).  

c. Remembering to look behind your child’s eyes and remember that they do NOT see the world in the same way as adults.

d. Developmentally-based responsiveness and knowledge of who our kids are

Tie this together and how it related to sex:

Brand new in history that people on average marry in their late 20’s and we have a delayed adolescents 14 years of sexual but not married as opposed to 150 years ago when boys finished apprenticeships, girls got their periods and people married at 16.

Educating for YES.  Lots of sexual decisions to make during that 14 years.

Under what circumstances might it be ok for you to say yes to certain experiences.  In what circumstances would it be in your best interest to say “no”.   Because we haven’t been teaching yardsticks that may be the reason

Need #2: Ongoing need for Information

Even our schools are 3-7 years late in teaching sexual content.   Need to be attuned to the way they think at certain ages.  

9th graders can understand probably (ie. you might die but you might not)...but emotionally they think statistics don’t apply to them.  Nature’s way of convincing teens that they are safe even if they separate from parents.  But they still need lots and lots of supervision.  Age 16 alcohol use increases at the same time as adult supervision decreases.  

Need #3: Ongoing Need for Crystal Clear Clarity about Values

There are no clear values about messages about sex in our culture.  Many are contradictory.  We have to NAME the values we want for our children.  Tend to give them rules but we need to name the VALUES we want them to bring to every sexual situation they confront.  Also a single standard for everyone, regardless of gender.  
Need #4: Ongoing Need for Limit Setting

These are the limits we use to keep our kids safe and healthy.  They need adult supervision and limits are the brackets we put around our kids for that purpose.  The art is knowing how to work with the limits and how to turn those brackets over to themselves over time.  The way you know how much to turn it over is based on track record.  Limits are not optional and increasingly there are more parents who don’t get that setting limits are not optional.  They need them even when they’re rolling their eyes.  

Re: Internet Devices.  Remember the public service announcement it’s 11 o’clock do you know where your children are.  Internet connection is unbridled independance and we’ve forgotten that in our love affair with technology.

I believe that all families should have an acceptable use policy for all screens based on the idea that Independance is Earned.  Once you’ve mastered x then you can have a bigger space.

Need #5: Ongoing Need for Anticipatory Guidance

What if x happened?  Walking them through possible scenarios that they may find themselves in.  If your child refuses to have this conversation they don’t go.  What if they can’t answer the questions?  They don’t go to the party.  

You cannot do this on your own.  You have to network with other parents.   We have to help eachother.  Also keep reading, reading, reading about development.  If you have 10 year old you have to be prepared for next year as well.  

Get yourself a mentor.  Help me keep ahead of the psunami.  FInd someone who have children older than yours, who have good relationships with their kids.  

Eric Ericsson

Resources for our Kids:
Heather Corrina books

Take apart the terminology: blowjob, handjob…which are prostitution terms.

Worldwide people say that relationship sex is the best sex.   What makes sexual behavior “sex”?  What makes a particular act sexual?  A: Arousal.  The behavior doesn’t matter.  It’s a spectrum of behaviors going from least intimate to most physically intimate.  

What are the Values that you want your child to bring to every situation (including every sexual situation)?

Respect (for self, others, boundaries, sex itself (happens to be the most powerful action on the planet...create life, change lives forever), all genders.

Challenge is that everything your kids are hearing about sex and the images are not supporing the message of those values.

NOTE on lecture:  The overarching perspective seemed to be that it’s not ok for teenagers to have sex.  I was one of only a few people in the audience who raised my hand that it might be ok.  That experience really made me want to further explore the question and made me wonder a little bit about the contextualization.  It did NOT change my opinion about the valuable information shared.     

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