Conversation Starters are very important when it comes to talking about sex. They allow you to bring up the subject in a variety of different ways at different times instead of waiting for the moment for “that one BIG talk.”

As one teen put it, “Parents shouldn’t drop the bomb on them (their kids) all at once; a little one day, a little the next day; that way it’s not a stressful thing and they can talk about it any time and it won’t be a big deal.” Adrian, 16 years old.

When it comes to conversation starters, the media can be a parent’s best friend!

Two girls sitting in front of a TV screen which has scantily clad females being broadcast. Consider some of the following examples:

Your daughter is watching a party scene . Everyone is drinking and talking about having sex. During the commercial or at the show’s end, the parent could ask questions such as:
  1. How real is the scene here? Discussing the fact that this might actually be taking place with teens her age prepares us to move slowly into some more in depth questions about risks.
  2. What can happen when people start to drink? (Lower inhibitions and more chance to engage in risky behavior.)
  3. What could be some of the consequences that they never talked about here? (STDs, unwanted pregnancy, rape, sexual harassment)
  4. If someone found herself in the same situation, what could she do to keep herself safe? (Share some of your own family values. This is also the chance to open discussion about what to do if your daughter should find herself in this situation.

Your son is listening to his favorite artist singing a song that has some very sexually explicit lyrics. Your son seems totally oblivious to the meaning of the lyrics and is obviously enjoying what he hears very much.

You might want to consider what Beth Reis, sexual health educator, Public Health-Seattle & King County, and a grandmother did when placed in a similar situation. Beth decided to take action using her sense of humor rather than launching into a lecture about what she was hearing. She began loudly singing her own version of this song which had demeaning messages about women and their body parts. Instead her version turned all the female body parts into male body parts. Her grandsons immediately understood what was happening and though they found it quite funny, they also had a chance to “take a second look” at the lyrics they were so happily singing.

Your daughter’s friend has just given her a copy of a popular magazine for women. The magazine contains a number of ads with scantily clad women posing alongside their male admirers in provocative positions.
  1. Pick out one ad in the magazine and ask your daughter what she thinks about the couple portrayed there. Is there anything about this couple that seems slightly unreal? Why?
  2. Why do you think cosmetic surgery, the use of Botox, etc. are so common among actresses/actors and models these days?
  3. How might Photoshop and other tech tools have been used to transform the images you see here?
  4. Talk about the purpose of the ads. Consider what kind of message these ads are sending by pairing the sexy couple with the product they are trying to convince us to buy.
  5. Discuss whether products actually are responsible for creating meaningful, exciting relationships.

Your son and daughter have been watching a TV program which contains a scene involving a young couple that has just met and find one another extremely attractive. By the end of the ½ hour show, the couple has returned to the male’s apartment and has ended up in bed.
  1. One mother who has found her teens watching such scenes in a number of programs has decided to make loud comments whenever one of these scenes takes place. She says things such as “Oh, sure. Now we know exactly where this is going!” “Oh, yes, like this is the way it always happens!”

    She keeps her comments short but they are consistent across programs as she continuously questions people putting themselves in these risky situations and at some points (such as during commercials or at the program’s ending) she explains her opinions further.
  2. Another mother uses what she’s seen on TV, the movies or the web as conversation starters when she’s driving her kids to school, sports or a friend’s house. “Remember last night when ____ and ____ ended up in bed together. “ If there were some different script writers, what could these two people have done to try to get to know each other?”

    Sometimes she feels that teens end up in bed because it’s all they’ve seen on TV and in the movies as something that’s expected when you’re getting together with someone you like. She also uses her time in the car to discuss her views and values about relationships.

    This mother noticed that her teen seemed to have few ideas about alternative activities that might be fun to do with someone they liked very much. She decided to use some of their car time together to also brainstorm a list of some possible ways to spend time with that “special someone.”
  3. Both mothers emphasize that the TV programs and movies rarely address unintended pregnancy and STDs. The programs also rarely contain any reference to protection that either partner might have considered using.

You see a story about teen pregnancy or the latest HIV/AIDS statistics on the web. Use this as a chance to talk to your son or daughter about these issues.
  1. Ask them if they think teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS are still problems today?
  2. Talk about anyone they know that might be a teen parent and how it’s affected their lives.
  3. Discuss the fact that HIV/AIDS is still very much a problem here in the United States. Anyone engaging in oral, anal or vaginal sex or sharing needles for drug use is placing themselves at risk.

Another pointer:

You don’t have to always start a conversation. Just let one be overheard. Talk to your friend on the phone, for instance, and be sure your teen is nearby when you’re speaking. While teens don’t want lectures, an interesting story told to a friend can accomplish your purpose.