Broaching Touchy Topics with Kids A National Campaign Urges Parents to Keep Lines Open and Talk Often

Article excerpt

Call it the birds and bees or the facts of life. By whatever name, it's a subject that can still make parents squirm when the moment arrives to sit down with their children and talk about sex.

Only 62 percent of parents have talked with their 8-to-12-year-olds about the basics of reproduction, a new survey reports. Even by the time children become teenagers, only about 30 percent of parents have discussed peer pressure to have sex or explained how to prevent pregnancy. Both parents and children admit that families don't talk enough about becoming sexually active or about violence, drugs, and AIDS.

To help break that silence, a new multimillion-dollar national campaign, "Talking With Kids About Tough Issues," urges parents to start talking with children earlier and more often about subjects that pose health and safety risks. The initiative includes television, radio, and print ads, along with a 60-page booklet of tips for parents on how to initiate conversations and answer children's questions. In addition, 20 Boys and Girls Clubs around the country will hold community forums and parent clinics. "The underlying premise, which is grounded in years of observations by a range of practitioners, is that those children who have benefited from an open, trusting channel of communication about difficult issues with their parents in these early years carry that protection into their teenage years and are more likely to make wise decisions," says Lois Salisbury, president of Children Now, a California-based advocacy group that is one of the project's sponsors. Other sponsors are the Kaiser Family Foundation of Menlo Park, Calif., and the Advertising Council. The need for early discussions is evident in studies showing that students who drink start at an average age of 11. Those who smoke marijuana begin at 12, on average. Approximately 60 percent of young people say they get "a lot" of information about sex, AIDS, violence, and drugs and alcohol from television, movies, and music, according to the survey. As a measure of students' hunger for better information, three-fifths of children age 10 to 12 want to know how to deal with pressure to have sex, and 80 percent want to know more about being safe from violence. The key to successful communication, professionals say, is to create an "open environment" where children feel comfortable talking about sensitive issues. …

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