Q: My parents never had "the sex talk" with me, and I seemed to turn out just fine. Now I'm wondering whether to delve into this issue in great detail with my own teenagers. Won't I just drive them away if I'm too heavy-handed about it?
Jim: Your kids are likely receiving a wide range of messages on sexuality from their peers, from school and especially from the media. But have you considered what those messages are saying? Your children need your wise counsel, based on your family's own values and convictions.
Saying "my kids won't listen to me" is no excuse. In fact, they may be listening more closely than you think. A Canadian study from the University of Montreal suggests that many teens look first to their parents for this information, rather than to their peers or the media.
The researchers surveyed almost 1,200 teens between the ages of 14 and 17. Surprisingly, 45 percent of them considered their parents to be their role models in regards to sexuality, compared to just 32 percent who looked to their peers. And only 15 percent said that their views on sex were most influenced by celebrities.
That runs counter to our thinking as parents. We're afraid that our kids will ignore our wise counsel in favor of the hedonism on display all around them. And certainly, that can happen. But the Canadian study shows that this isn't always the case.
If you're not worried about the unhealthy messages your teens are receiving -- you should be! But don't lose hope. Take some time to talk openly with your kids about sexual issues, and encourage them to save sex for marriage. There may be a lot of voices competing for their attention, but yours is the one they most need to hear.
Q: What do I do when my spouse is unwilling to compromise or discuss an issue that we don't agree on?
Juli: An unwillingness to compromise or discuss an issue represents a difficult roadblock. Marriage experts call this "stonewalling" and recognize that it is a very destructive way of avoiding conflict. Without knowing more about your situation, I hesitate to give specific advice, but here are some things to consider.
The first step to overcoming a significant communication barrier is to honestly ask if you've done something to shut down the process. For instance, a woman might be unwilling to talk about the budget because every time it comes up, she feels belittled or controlled by her husband. Or a husband may never want to talk about his weight gain because he feels humiliated by his wife's nagging.
Often, people stonewall when they believe conflict is emotionally unsafe. Has there been a negative pattern in the past that might leave your spouse concluding that the only option is to "shut down"? If so, take responsibility for that and offer to approach the topic with a different tone, perhaps with the help of a neutral third party.
If your spouse remains unwilling to discuss or compromise, you need to discern how big an issue this is. Is it something you can live with, like what temperature to keep the bedroom at night or whether or not to buy a flat-screen TV? You might decide to just let it go.
On the other hand, some issues in marriage cannot be overlooked or ignored, particularly those involving trust or character. In this situation, I'd encourage you to work with a counselor to consider creating a "crisis." When a person is unwilling to talk through an issue, creating a crisis means changing the environment so that it must be addressed. This might include a temporary physical or emotional separation for the expressed purpose of highlighting the importance of the issue that needs to be resolved.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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