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Youth sexuality, substance abuse topics at West Shore parent workshop

Parents can learn how to have tough conversations with kids
Research indicates that youth want to have more serious conversations with their parents about sex and drugs. An upcoming workshop will feature two experts in those fields offering tips for parents how best to have those discussions with their kids.

Rock and roll isn’t likely to be a part of the discussion, but West Shore parents will soon have an excellent opportunity to learn how to address sexual health and substance abuse when it comes to their kids.

The workshop will be hosted by Cindy Andrew, a program consultant with the Centre for Addictions Research B.C., and Jennifer Gibson, a professional sexual health educator with Island Sexual Health.

They hope to give parents ideas how to better address these difficult – and often embarrassing – topics with their kids by sharing tips for healthier dialogue and pointing out some common mistakes that lead to unproductive conversations.

Andrew and Gibson agree it’s important to avoid the formalities of “The Talk,” which is often a one-sided discussion laced with fear, and for parents to introduce both subjects in a more natural, teachable manner.

“(Our) goal is helping parents have those conversations with their kids … it’s not about the facts and the stats. We know that approach doesn’t work and that scaring kids (doesn’t work),” Andrew said.

“Use the teachable moments. When you’re watching Netflix as a family and the movie becomes something you didn’t think it was, talk about that,” Gibson noted. Asking youth what they would do in a particular situation can be especially effective.

Other common mistakes, she said, include underestimating the power the media has when it comes to influencing children, and making assumptions about your child’s sexuality.

Despite the sexualized nature of the media, youth aren’t active to the degree that many people might think they are. According to a 2013 survey, only 19 per cent of youth from Grade 7 to Grade 12 say they have been sexually active. When Gibson, an educator in classrooms across Greater Victoria, shares this statistic with her students it is met with looks of surprise and relief, with the latter coming from feeling a sense of normalcy if they aren’t sexually active themselves.

This figure should also be comforting for parents, but she stresses that “doesn’t mean we don’t need to be doing the work and having these conversations.”

Over the course of her 15 years as a sexual health educator, Gibson has noticed an increase in the number of students who anonymously ask her how they can have conversations about sex with their parents, suggesting that children and teenagers want to discuss these topics.

“This is kind of difficult to talk about, but difficult doesn’t mean wrong or bad, it just means that maybe we need to do this more often,” she said.

The substance abuse discussion is taking on a whole new level of importance amid B.C.’s fentanyl crisis, which has led to a dramatic spike in overdose fatalities in 2016.

“This is a poignant reminder of the value of having conversations with our kids about these topics,” Andrew said.

For parents with younger children, she stressed that it’s “never too early” for parents to get a head start on how these discussions can look or will look when the time comes. “The fundamentals for helping kids manage life behaviours, including sex and drugs, starts when they’re very young,” Andrew said.

“We’re blessed in School District 62 that we’ve got some school-based health clinics, so it makes it even easier for kids to have access to the sort of support that helps them.”


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