Just a few weeks ago, a new research review from the journal Pediatrics reaffirmed one area where father power shows up: their children’s decisions about sex.
The study noted two factors in fathers that increase the chances that teens will put off sexual activity: emotional closeness between the father and teenager, and the father’s disapproving attitudes toward teen sex. See the entire study here (PDF).
I know for many parents, this is an area of great concern—and it should be. Because we survived our own adolescence, and because we live in the 21st Century, we know very well that there’s a lot riding on our kids’ behavior in this area. Their decisions will have huge and long-lasting ramifications touching on their future opportunities, their family situations, their health, their moral character, and on and on.
I’m not sure why fathers are so influential in this area, but we should see studies like this as a clear call for us to be strategic and proactive about doing our part. It isn’t easy, and there are no guarantees, but we want to give our children every chance to avoid the hardships that come with teenage sex.
For me, those two factors mentioned by the study give us plenty to think about (and work on) in this area with our children:
Create emotional closeness with your children. No matter what their ages, this will have great benefits. A positive, encouraging relationship builds your child’s self-esteem and he or she will have the confidence to make wise decisions about sex and not get pressured into anything. That good relationship will also mean you have more opportunities to talk about specific issues or questions that come up along the way.
I know … “Emotional closeness” doesn’t come easily for many men. But if we put our minds to it, we can learn just about anything, right? And this won’t be as challenging or uncomfortable as it might sound.
Start simple. Send your child texts or write notes to affirm, challenge, or just to say “I’m thinking about you.” Or share something that happened to you. Don’t go long; just use a sentence here and there. Send something positive at any time to brighten up his or her day.
Get into your child’s world. This is an important way to communicate your love, and those moments are also opportunities to learn more about your child and what makes him tick. Step out of your comfort zone and view the world from your child’s perspective. For many dads, daughters provide the most opportunities to “stretch” because of the different interests, but you can do it. Learn about your son’s friends, your daughter’s favorite music, his current struggles, what she is most proud of, and so on.
Find something unique. Since every person and every relationship is different, be intentional about finding activities and pastimes the two of you can enjoy together: bicycling or chess, woodworking or gardening, music or flying or volleyball or working on cars. It may take some trial and error, and it might mean you trying some new things. But that’s a great path to being closer with your child and having opportunities to influence key decisions he or she will soon make.
Share your attitudes about sex. Make sure your children know what you believe about this important area of life. Tell them that sex is a wonderful thing in the right context, but many people today take it out of that context and there are all kinds of problems as a result. What do you wish you knew about sex when you were your child’s age? Have those conversations!
Be proactive. It might be awkward at first, but take the lead when it comes to teaching your kids about sex. Convey your expectations clearly and give them sound reasoning. Do your research and be ready to counter some of the other messages they will hear. This is a very tangible way you can protect your child’s innocence.
Address this topic early and often. Instead of having “the talk” just once and hoping it does the trick, establish the subject of sexuality as something you feel comfortable talking about. There are age-appropriate ways to address it even with young children. Remember, first messages are usually the most powerful. It’s better for you to present a positive, accurate message, based on your values, than to let your kids hear about sex on the school playground or from TV or the Internet. Every day, be ready to use teachable moments that arise during the routine of life. Eventually, you should be able to have very frank conversations with your teenage son, and give your daughter a man’s perspective on sex-related issues.
Have some grace. It’s important to remember that no one is perfect. Your child might not live up to your expectations in this area. (Don’t you have some regrets from your teenage years?) So, even though there might be difficult consequences ahead, be quick to forgive, express your love, and continue to demonstrate your support for him or her, even if you don’t approve of something that has happened.
ACTION POINTS for Dads on the Journey …
- Surprise your child by joining him or her in some activity that you might not ordinarily consider. Tell your child, “I just want to learn more about you.”
- Pay attention to how you physically respond to your child—body language, gestures, tone of voice, all that. Make every effort to be more inviting and focused on him.
- Take advantage of opportunities to connect with your child and his peers. Be a mentor, coach, chaperone, or scout leader, and/or volunteer in their classroom.
- Talk through scenarios with your child, such as: what they should do if they are ever “flashed” or approached by someone in an inappropriate way; what are proper and improper touches; what attire crosses the line of being too suggestive; when, where, and how long they should be alone with a girlfriend or boyfriend; etc.
- With daughter especially, give lots of positive attention and affection. Make sure she has no reason to seek out that affirmation physically with other boys or young men.
Please share: Have you addressed sexual issues with your child? What did you learn in the process? Please help other dads. You can join the discussion either below or on our Facebook page.
Carey Casey is the CEO of the National Center for Fathering, a nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the culture of fathering in America by enlisting 6.5 million fathers who to make the Championship Fathering Commitment. NCF believes that every child needs a dad they can count on, and uses its resources to inspire and equip men to be the involved fathers, grandfathers and father figures their children need. Subscribe to his weekly email tip by clicking here: “Yes! I want tips on how to be a great dad who loves, coaches, mentors, and inspires my children.