Challenging Conversations

We’re Talking Hot Love

Delaney Ruston, MD
June 29, 2021
Teen relationship

We are in a heatwave here in the Northwest. Fortunately, we live by Lake Washington, and so we headed there on Saturday and dove in. As we splashed around and watched boats go by, there was a couple, maybe in their late 20s, happily kissing in the water. They looked very much in love.

How much do we as parents talk with our kids about positive intimate relationships? Awkward! Yes, when we have teens, that can very much be the word that pops up for everyone.

I love that during summer, there’s a relief from the complexities of school-based social stressors, and it can be a good time to stroll with a tween or teen to get ice cream and casually bring up some of the more awkward parenting conversations.

A recent survey of teens age 14–17 asked what sources helped them understand sex. They responded that helpful information was most likely to have come from parents (31%) and friends (21.6%).

I am always aware of how few shows depict stories of love and intimacy in loving teen relationships in a way that I would like teens to see. There are so few media messages about the courtship phase, hand-holding, having vulnerable talks, and such. What does, unfortunately, rule the airwaves are intense negative dramas. And then there is the issue of pornography, which I have written about in the past and will do so again this summer.  

So let's take this relative downtime of summer to bring up the topic of what makes for loving, kind intimate relationships. And yes, this may well get into sexuality, so I will address this as well. 

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Using our lives as examples at times

Later in the day, after seeing the kissing couple, I mentioned to our daughter how I recall when falling in love with Peter, my husband was such a unique and vulnerable time for me. I cried so easily from feelings of love, but also out of nervousness from thoughts like, “what if anything prevented our being together?” I also told Tessa that, of course, I love him now, but those first few years were such a wild ride of emotions. Tessa was smiling as I told her all this, and said she never heard me say it in quite that way. It was a good mom-daughter moment. 

Practicing to get more comfortable talking about sex-related topics

As a physician, I am used to talking with teens and adults about all sorts of sexuality-related topics, and my job is to make the other person feel as comfortable as possible. I have found all these years that it really helps to jump in and say the words that my patients clearly want to say but are not. For example, recently in clinic, a young man said to me, “Well, ah, I am like ah having problems with ah sex and ah you know ah my penis.” That was my cue to help him feel more at ease, and I calmly asked, “Oh, so are you having problems with having an erection or maintaining one, or ejaculation or, is it something else? My casual tone immediately helped end his hesitancy, and he was able to tell me more about his situation. Of course, my comfort with having all sorts of such conversations comes from years of practice. 

So I encourage any parent not so comfortable saying certain words or talking about certain topics to practice with a friend or partner. No joke. 

We don’t have to have tons of conversations about what makes for positive sexual relationships but being willing to try and have some is clearly a benefit to our kids. It lets them know we can handle the awkwardness. And most importantly, you are laying the groundwork if your teen has an issue and needs to come to you. Not that long ago, a mom told me how her older teen son, in a committed new relationship, called her because he had sex with his girlfriend and the condom broke. The mom was so happy that her son knew he could go to her to discuss ways to handle the situation.

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Resources to help foster discussions 

The series Chicken Soup For The Soul has some wonderful books on all sorts of relationship issues. I recommend Teen-Love-Relationships. Leave it on the coffee table, and sure enough, many will look through it. To be more proactive, read it yourself to find discussion topics. Or, you and your teen could read a part, with the idea of talking about it later. It is full of little vignettes and letters, so you can just pick one for discussion. 

Years ago, I interviewed Tina Schermer Sellers, a researcher on religious, sexual shame, and wrote the book Thank God For Sex. Her book and website have resources for faith-based parents for ways to talk about sexuality with their kids. Tina helps lead a movement about shame-free relational and sexual health.

My book, Parenting in the Screen Age: A Guide to Calm Conversations, has many tips around discussions with kids about the art of ramping up positivity in relationships.

 Questions to get the conversation started:

  1. What shows have we all seen that show teens’ romantic relationships in a respectful, kind, and somewhat true to life?
  2. Who are you most likely to get helpful information about relationships from? Your sibling? Your friends? Your friends' older siblings? A parent? A teacher? Someone else?
  3. Is there a YouTuber or TikToker that you think gives good advice about relationships?
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Challenging Conversations

We’re Talking Hot Love

Delaney Ruston, MD
June 29, 2021
Teen relationship

We are in a heatwave here in the Northwest. Fortunately, we live by Lake Washington, and so we headed there on Saturday and dove in. As we splashed around and watched boats go by, there was a couple, maybe in their late 20s, happily kissing in the water. They looked very much in love.

How much do we as parents talk with our kids about positive intimate relationships? Awkward! Yes, when we have teens, that can very much be the word that pops up for everyone.

I love that during summer, there’s a relief from the complexities of school-based social stressors, and it can be a good time to stroll with a tween or teen to get ice cream and casually bring up some of the more awkward parenting conversations.

A recent survey of teens age 14–17 asked what sources helped them understand sex. They responded that helpful information was most likely to have come from parents (31%) and friends (21.6%).

I am always aware of how few shows depict stories of love and intimacy in loving teen relationships in a way that I would like teens to see. There are so few media messages about the courtship phase, hand-holding, having vulnerable talks, and such. What does, unfortunately, rule the airwaves are intense negative dramas. And then there is the issue of pornography, which I have written about in the past and will do so again this summer.  

So let's take this relative downtime of summer to bring up the topic of what makes for loving, kind intimate relationships. And yes, this may well get into sexuality, so I will address this as well. 

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