In early April, Head of School Jessica Donovan and School Counselor Phyllis Fagell held a morning coffee sponsored by the DEIC to help parents learn how to talk with their children about healthy relationships. Their first point was simple and clear — it’s important to talk to kids about healthy relationships!
Every parent has wisdom to share
The duo emphasized that every parent has wisdom to offer, whether they’re divorced, single, or they married the first person they dated. Jessica emphasized that it’s critical to recognize that tweens are forming their identities while dealing with significant online and offline pressures, and they want to talk about the issue. “We can’t police everything our kids do or prevent them from making mistakes, but we can instill our values, answer their questions and help them solve problems. We also can help them make sense of confusing or incomplete information, especially when it comes from friends their own age,” she said.
Phyllis noted that although kids want to have these conversations, they’ll feel overexposed if you make it too personal. She suggests a number of ways to make the conversation easier. “Create some distance by reading a dating column together, then asking them how they’d respond if they were the advice columnist. Or mention an article or statistic in the news, then ask them what they think about it. You also can use fictional characters to kick off a conversation about respect or anticipatory decision-making.”
“Use these conversations to emphasize what matters to your family, whether it’s respect, kindness, loyalty or reciprocity. These are the same values you’ll want them to bring to both friendships and romantic relationships. When giving advice, be mindful of societal stereotypes, such as boys play offense and girls play defense. Don’t just tell your daughters not to send nude selfies, for example–tell your sons not to request them,” Phyllis advised.
The bottom line from both of them? It takes bravery to initiate discussions about love and sexuality. If you feel awkward, be authentic and admit your discomfort–but stay calm and talk about it anyway. If your kids don’t want to talk at all, buy developmentally appropriate books on the topic, make them accessible, and tell them you’re happy to answer any follow-up questions.