Along with prom dress shopping and handling first heartbreaks, a lot of duties get relegated to Mom—including The Sex Talk, which we explore in "How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen" in our November issue. But the burden shouldn’t be solely on mothers, says Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health and professor and director of the Doctoral Program at the Silver School of Social Work. We asked him to explain why fathers are so critical to the conversation, how to get them involved and what Mom and Dad must discuss first:
Q. Why is it so important to involve Dad in The Sex Talk?
A. When most people think about fathers, they think of them as economic support or associate them with being disciplinarians. But the truth is fathers do a lot more than that.
Even in families where Mom is doing a good job, when a father adopts a strategy of talking to their kid about sex, it makes a difference. Dad contributes something independent and unique.
Q. What’s unique that Dad adds?
A. One important point is that Dads have their own unique paternal influence. It matters when your father says he does or doesn’t want you to do something. Also there’s more opportunity for parents to supervise and support their child.
Q. Is there something about giving your child a male perspective that’s key here?
A. Anecdotally, I’d say young people benefit from that. An adolescent girl hearing from her father about dating or hearing a male view of a healthy relationship can have value. As an adolescent boy, it’s great having a role model, seeing how another man navigated situations, hearing what it was like when your Dad was a teen.
Q. What about the value in having two people who have opened the door for you to talk to them about this—as opposed to just one.
A. We know that when teens have clear messages from their parents they’re more likely to adopt their parents’ perspective or at least consider it. So when you have both parents talking about it, there’s more opportunity for the teen to hear and understand their parents’ view. It doubles the opportunity.
Q. What should Mom say to Dad to get him involved? Tell him: “Regardless of what I do, you can make your own impact in our teen’s life.” It’s really important that Dads understand that they play an independent and unique role. It’s also important that Mom and Dad be clear on what the message is going to be about appropriate behavior.
Q. That’s a great point. What if Mom and Dad have different views on birth control, sex or appropriate relationships?
A. What’s important is to have a common goal. Most parents agree they want their teen to do well in school, stay healthy, have a positive future and good opportunities. If Mom and Dad can keep that common goal in focus, maybe they can deal with more sensitive issues better. When it comes down to speaking about my teen not getting an STI, my teen finishing school, my teen’s future not being compromised, parents become highly motivated to act.
Q. What else should Mom and Dad keep in mind as they have The Sex Talk with their teen?
A. Parents tend to focus on all the negatives that could happen if their teen is sexually active: unplanned pregnancies, STIs and HIV. Teens focus on the potential good things that might happen: feeling closer to their boyfriend or girlfriend, feeling more mature, being more popular. Even though all the adult reasons are important, they’re not the things that will be most influential in a teen’s decision-making about sex. If you want to be effective in talking to your teen, focus on what they’re focusing on.
Lyna Floyd is the health director at Family Circle magazine.