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Posts Tagged ‘communication’

Four Things Adults Can Teach Young People About Communication in 2014

January 6, 2014

“But, how do I talk about this?”

A friend in her 20s recently asked me how, exactly, she was supposed to talk about specific sexual behaviors with someone she’d been seeing for a few months. My friend, who’s smart, driven and empowered in many aspects of her life, had no idea how to talk with her partner about what she wants, needs, likes and dislikes when it comes to sex. I wondered and worried if she couldn’t talk to him about these topics, could they discuss safer sex or birth control?

While Answer works to educate teens and adults who work with teens, I’m reminded by conversations like this that teens who do not receive honest, straightforward sexuality education aren’t likely to be able to talk with their partners about these topics. And without parents or other trusted adults teaching young people how to talk with their partners, they very quickly become 20-something young adults who aren’t able to have these conversations either. I sympathize with my friend, because no one taught her or her partner how to have these sorts of conversations. And if a successful, mature young adult like my friend doesn’t know how to talk with her partner, how do we expect teenagers—who arguably have less relationship experience—to know how?

As the expert on the Forums who answers teens’ questions about sex, sexuality and sexual health, I encounter teens everyday who don’t know what good communication looks like. They ask how to tell their partner they want to use a condom or that they don’t feel ready to have sex. It’s our job as adults and educators to do a better job of counseling young people on how to have these important conversations with a partner.

I want to make the case for us—as educators, parents or people with a young person in our lives that we care about—to make the time in 2014 to talk with young people and teach them how to have healthy and respectful conversations about sex, sexual health and sexuality. Most young people will hopefully be getting the information they need about safer sex and birth control (and if not, send them on over to!), but as adults who care about young people, we need to make sure they learn more than the steps to putting on a condom or the effectiveness rate of an IUD. They need to be able to talk about what they’ve learned so they can use it.

It can be hard even for us as adults to know what to say. So, here are four things we can teach young people when it comes to communicating with a partner:

  1. Make sure the conversation happens when you aren’t engaging in sexual behaviors. Having a conversation about sexual behaviors is usually easier when both partners are clothed and just hanging out together. People generally will feel less vulnerable, emotionally and physically, for what can sometimes be an awkward or difficult conversation.
  2. Use “I” statements. Statements that begin with “I think” or “I believe” let a partner know that you’re speaking for yourself and how you feel and that your conversation is about expressing your thoughts and communicating—not about accusing or attacking. Be sure that your language and thoughts are clear and that you’re telling your partner not only what you don’t want or aren’t ready for, but also what you do want and are ready for. It may help to think about this and formulate some thoughts before sitting down to talk.
  3. Find a solution together. Agreeing to work toward something as a team often brings couples closer together and can make the conversation feel less awkward.
  4. Practice. Like anything else, good communication isn’t something that everyone is automatically great at. Learning how to communicate effectively and in a way that each partner feels valued and respected can take some time. It gets easier!

We know young people want to learn how to communicate more effectively with a partner. We also know they look to trusted adults and educators to teach them how. Teaching young people how to communicate in a relationship in an honest and respectful way just may be the most useful tool you can offer them in 2014.

—Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, M.A., Coordinator of Education and Communications

Answer Talks to The New York Times About Parents, Kids & Porn

May 11, 2012

pornI recently spoke with New York Times writer Amy O’Leary about parents, kids and porn. Porn is easily accessible online, and I’ve blogged in the past (”My Child Viewed Porn: Now What?”) about why a child might seek out porn and what parents or guardians can do when this happens. Porn isn’t going away, so it was great to see that the New York Times chose to cover this issue as well! Check out the articles below to find out more, including some additional advice I shared on five different scenarios in which parents spoke with their children who had stumbled upon online porn.

“How to Talk to Your Kids About Pornography”

“Can Your Child Find Porn on Your Phone?”

“So How Do We Talk About This?”

My Child Viewed Porn: Now What?

February 17, 2012

pornThere are few more dramatic, clutch-the-pearls parenting moments than discovering that your child was viewing pornography. It doesn’t matter what your child’s gender is or how shy or outgoing your child is. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve put parental restrictions on your Internet access. Porn is easily accessible today in a variety of formats, and it is very likely that this will happen in your family at some point.

Why might your child have checked out porn? The most common reasons are…

Curiosity - Cultural references to porn are all around us. They are made by teens and adults, on the radio, by recording artists, in sitcoms and in movies. So sometimes kids check out porn because they want to know what it is and what the big deal is about.

Hormones - It’s hard for us to admit, but our children are sexual beings. Once they enter puberty, they are RAGING sexual beings. It’s exactly what’s supposed to be happening, biologically and developmentally. So sometimes, kids go online to check out porn because it turns them on. Sorry. Truth.

Confusion - Adolescents are concrete thinkers who need specific examples. If you describe what a condom is, your adolescent will understand something. If you show your adolescent a condom, allow her or him to actually touch it, your concrete adolescent will understand far more. For some young people, hearing “oral sex is when someone puts their mouth on another person’s genitals for pleasure” isn’t enough. How does that actually happen? Why do people do it? Adolescents go online, see someone performing oral sex and say, “Oh, I get it.”

Parents often ask, “What impact does viewing porn have on children?” There are different viewpoints and a range of research relating to this. Generally speaking, porn does not harm young people. It can, however, misinform and confuse them. Porn is made for adults, not adolescents. It is designed to be a fantasy-and adolescents don’t always get that, because, again, they’re concrete thinkers. What they see is what they get.

So, what do you do if your child has been checking out porn?

Decide who’s going to bring it up. If you are partnered or married, strategize together first for consistency. Then one of you should speak with your child so she or he does not feel ganged up on. Believe me, your child is going to feel embarrassed and defensive, so you need to approach this gently.

Be ready to explain how you know she or he was accessing porn. When it comes to technology, parents are all over the place about whether it’s OK to check their children’s e-mails, texts, etc. If you are a parent who does spot checks, I suggest you let your child know that in advance. Otherwise, while you’re trying to talk with your child about why it’s not OK for her or him to look at porn, she or he will be focused on how and why you violated her or his privacy.

Be ready to have several short conversations. Again, your child is likely to be mortified that you discovered she or he was watching porn. That means you have a limited window in which to talk about it. This also means that you may need to come back to it several times to reinforce what you said the first time, since all they will be able to hear is their own voice in their head saying, “Please let this be over….”

Set boundaries. Remember you are the parent, and as the parent, you are responsible for setting and maintaining rules in your home. After you’ve spoken about why adolescents shouldn’t be viewing porn, you need to clearly explain your expectations moving forward and that, like with any other rules, there will be consequences for breaking them. Effective consequences should happen right after the offense and be related to the offense (e.g., no non-homework computer access for a period of time).

Watch for these warning signs that indicate a problem needing professional help:

Subject matter. If you were to discover that the only images your child was viewing were particularly violent or degrading, you’d need to talk about what she or he saw and to explain clearly that that is not the way people should behave in a sexual relationship. How that conversation goes will determine whether you might want to bring your child to see a therapist to explore the source of their curiosity.

Frequency of viewing. A parent asked me, “If my son says he can’t stop watching porn, is that a problem?” Absolutely. If viewing porn feels like a compulsion, professional intervention is necessary to direct your child away from a behavior that is not healthy to one that is.

Changes in language or behavior. Any dramatic changes in your child’s language or behavior should be noted. (For example, if your previously outgoing child becomes quieter, more secretive, or you hear him or her using more sexualized language with friends or with you). These changes may not necessarily indicate that your child has been viewing porn, but they can. When in doubt, check it out.

Above all, stay calm. Talk with other parents about how they’ve handled this situation with their children. Speak with professionals who have expertise working with children. You are not alone in figuring out how to address this!

My Child Viewed Porn: Now What? was originally published by

You Want Me to Say WHAT? Talking About Sex With Your Kids

November 30, 2011

If you’re a parent, you know well that you have many jobs when it comes to your children’s well-being. But did you know that one of these is being your child’s sexuality educator?

Teaching your child about sexuality, in the context of your own family values, is one of the most important jobs you have-yet it is the job parents usually get the least amount of training to do.

The very idea of talking about sexuality tends to raise a myriad of questions for parents: What’s appropriate to say at which ages? Shouldn’t I wait for my child to bring it up? What if I don’t know how to answer my child’s questions?

Relax! There are some basic ways that you can let your children know that you are a safe, “askable” adult-no matter what they might have questions about.

It’s Never Too Early to Start. It’s important to remember that sexuality has to do with far more than “sex.” “Sexuality” is a far-reaching, comprehensive term that encompasses everything from physical anatomy to understanding how to treat people with respect to learning how pregnancy happens and much, much more.

When you understand this, you know that children are receiving messages about sexuality from the day they are born-from the words people use around them to describe their body parts to messages they get from family, peers and the media about how they are supposed to behave based on their assigned gender. The longer you wait to talk with your child, the more you are competing with what they’re hearing all around them.

The important phrase here is “age-appropriate”-what your child needs to know as a kindergartener is much different from what she or he needs to know in high school. Start early, start slowly-and if you’re unsure, reach out for some guidance.

It’s Never Too Late to Start. If you are the parent of an adolescent and you haven’t yet started talking with your child, you didn’t miss the proverbial boat. Start now and keep talking.

As your children get older, they will need to know new information with each passing year and be faced with making decisions about relationships and shared sexual behaviors. Your guidance will be imperative throughout their adolescent years.

Try to put the idea of having “the” talk out of your mind. You need to talk early and often!

Take Small Bites. You don’t need to cover absolutely everything in one conversation with your child. It will overwhelm you as much as it will your child!

Look for teachable moments: watch television with your child and mute the television during commercials to discuss something you’ve just seen.

Take advantage of car rides to and from school and other activities. This is a non-threatening place to have discussions about sexuality and other important topics.

Talk With Your Partner or Spouse About Your Values. If you are married or in a relationship, make sure that you and your spouse or partner talk about your values and beliefs relating to sexuality so that if you have individual conversations with your child, the messages you are giving are consistent.

Be sure to deal with any differences you may have in your opinions and values away from your child. For example, if one of you believes it’s OK for 13-year-olds to date but the other thinks that that’s too young, you need to have that conversation independent of your child and figure out together how to respond in ways that provide information without undermining either one of you or your beliefs.

If You Don’t Know, Say “I Don’t Know.” There is a strong pressure on parents to know everything. Although we may love it when our kids are younger and think we do, we can’t possibly. The good news is there are tons of Web sites, books and other resources for parents.

If you’re stumped, be honest with your child, saying something like, “That’s a really great question. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. Let’s go look it up online together.” You won’t lose validity in your child’s eyes. In fact, he or she will appreciate your honesty.

There’s nothing about becoming a parent that makes us instant experts in sexuality-or in any other topic for that matter. But the good news is you’re not alone.

You can get support from trained sexuality educators, learn from fellow parents and get guidance from folks in your faith community, if you are a member of one. Talking about sexuality isn’t always easy, but it is always important.

You Want Me to Say WHAT? Talking About Sex With Your Kids” was originally published by