By Tahirah Chichester
Living in a 21st century world can be difficult: from responsibilities with family, to practicing self-care and maintaining friendships, it is a balancing act trying to keep everything together! Our main goal (as educators, parents/guardians, caregivers) is to guide teens in the right direction while providing occasional insight and feedback. Given the fast pace of daily life, having meaningful interactions with your teen can be difficult, especially on the topic of sexual health. How comforting would it be to know that there are trusted, accurate online resources that can help educate your teen? After reading this article, you will gain the tools needed to increase your confidence in finding such resources specific to teen health.
Be conscious of your own biases, expertise, and limitations. This first step is essential in that it sets the tone for how you interact with teens. Be mindful of topics that you hold strong opinions on: those opinions may prevent you from giving unbiased information. You may know a lot about certain topics, while other areas will need more work — be honest with yourself. The end goal is to provide teens with accurate facts and information that will allow them to make educated and informed decisions.
Talk to your teen and listen to their concerns. Practice active listening when talking with your teen. Active listening is a technique used by doctors, nurses, and other health professionals. It is also a technique used by people who are simply great listeners. You may already practice these skills day-to-day. Face the person when they are talking to you. Be relaxed but look attentive. Uncross your arms. Avoid looking at your cellphone. It is important to create a non-judgmental space for your teen. Try to understand what your teen is feeling and refrain from dismissing their concerns or worries.
When searching for a topic, be intentional in your search. You have finally zeroed in on the issue that is troubling your teen. Use what you have gathered from active listening to perform a search on Google or your preferred search engine. Instead of searching topics like “STI’s”, “Abstinence”, or “Birth Control”, try more specific key words like “STI Symptoms”, “Types of Birth Control”, or “Safe Ways to be Intimate Without Sex”.
Be critical of sources that appear in search engine results. This is where the word “bias” comes into play again. The Internet is a great place to gain information. But as seen in the comments section of an opinion article or Facebook post, people often state their opinions or biases as actual facts. This can be harmful especially in regards to sexual and reproductive health: when opinions are shared as facts, teens may internalize these biases, which can have a negative impact on their sexual health decisions. Seek resources that provide statistics or cite studies or reputable organizations.
However, try not to limit resources to news articles or opinion posts. The way we consume information is rapidly changing! Pamphlets or websites (like this one you’re reading right now) are excellent resources. Do you know that similar and up-to-date information is accessible on various social media platforms? Bedsider has amazing graphics on birth control methods (https://www.bedsider.org/methods ) and a birth control reminder app (https://www.bedsider.org/reminders_app ) available for smartphones. Planned Parenthood’s YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/plannedparenthood) has great videos on consent or steps to putting on a condom; they even have videos in Spanish! HealthySexual (http://healthysexual.tumblr.com ) has information on STI/HIV prevention and other safer sex topics on Tumblr. Try following reputable organizations on platforms like Pinterest or Instagram if you want visual information.
Share the information with your youth! How will you share resources with your teen? In person? Via e-mail or text? How can you relay this information without lecturing or overloading them with facts or statistics? Try practicing how the conversation may go in your head or out loud. Also, recognize the value of “teachable moments”. Recently there have been instances in which social media platforms have been used to exploit adolescents through documenting and sharing consensual or non-consensual acts like sexual assault. When this pops up on your radar, use this as a teachable moment for youth to talk about what has happened. It should not be used as a scare tactic, but an opportunity to increase awareness and reinforce support.