Talking with your teen about sexuality

“On reality TV shows, for example, there’s tons of sexual harassment going on, and none of the perpetrators ever have to deal with the consequences. That’s giving our kids a warped picture.”

Shiri Hefetz (photo credit: SONYA GERSHAFT)
Shiri Hefetz
(photo credit: SONYA GERSHAFT)
Many Israeli parents were shocked when they heard about the alleged rape incident that took place in Cyprus this past July. Although in the end it turns out that there was no sexual assault, the alleged behavior of the young Israeli men who were involved in the incident in Cyprus has many Israeli parents extremely concerned.
As a result, thousands of Israeli parents participated in workshops all over the country to learn how to talk with their teenage children about healthy sexual relationships.
The recent increase in the number of cases of sexual assault involving minors has people worried and wondering how to counteract this disturbing phenomenon among Israeli youth.
Shiri Hefetz, 32, from Tel Aviv, recently began a program for adults called “100% responsibility – lectures about healthy sexuality.” She is interested in helping adults learn how to speak with their children about sex, and offer them an alternative to the content and messages they’re bombarded with on TV, computers and their smartphones.
“I was horrified by what I was seeing on the nightly news – an 11-year-old girl getting raped by boys, and the Israeli teens in Cyprus,” Hefetz says animatedly. “We can’t ignore these incidents anymore. We need to find a solution to this crisis. I’ve been a counselor helping parents for years, and I know how difficult people find it to talk to their children about sex, so I decided to create a new program to help parents in this area.”
IT ALL started from a post that Hefetz wrote on Facebook. Hefetz began collaborating with Marganit Erez, a counselor for parents regarding healthy sexuality, who put together a great presentation. Within a few days, hundreds of parents replied to Hefetz, expressing interest in participating in such workshops, and even offering to host them in their homes.
The first evening took place on August 1, and since then there have been over 250 sessions all over the country – in cities and kibbutzim – in which all the speakers volunteer their time.
“It’s a topic that’s not talked about much, but now suddenly everyone’s waking up to the fact that it’s really important,” says Hefetz.
The lecture starts with warning parents of what could happen to their children, the dangers involved in sexual interactions, and how to talk with your children about taking responsibility for their actions.
“We teach parents how to begin a conversation with their teen about relations and sexuality,” continues Hefetz. “We take turns practicing these mock conversations. We also show them video clips they can watch together with their children. Up until now, sex has been a taboo subject that no one talks about, and people feel lots of embarrassment and shame when they talk about it. That’s why I feel it’s so important to help parents learn how to have these discussions anyway, even though it’s so hard.
“Sex is part of everyone’s life. I wanted to create a way to begin a conversation. Parents just don’t talk with their kids about sex, and so kids deal with it on their own. Parents are worried, but don’t open up to their kids about these worries, and kids are taking their first steps in this new, exciting and scary world and are not talking to their parents or getting any guidance from them. The most important message that we need to pass on to our kids is that sexuality is positive and natural. Communicating about it is the first step to creating a new culture of openness,” says Hefetz.
“One of the reasons I decided to create my business was because I understood that I brought my child into a world where they look at boys as potential rapists and at girls as potential victims,” explains Dana Weinstein Oren, a counselor on sexuality issues who participated in one of the sessions in Hod Hasharon. “Our whole worldview is all wrong and keeps us disconnected from our sexuality. It turns it into an enemy instead of the best thing in our lives. It’s important to speak with our kids and empower them. They need to learn about boundaries, mutual respect, communication, connecting with our passions, self-fulfillment and happiness. I’m so glad that parents are finally waking up and realizing that they can take matters into their own hands.”
The Yiflach family recently hosted about 30 parents – mostly women – in their home in Moshav Merhavya. “I have three grown children and one teen, and I really have no idea how to broach this subject with them,” says Zohar, one of the participants, who wants to learn how to talk about sexuality with her children. “Our parents never broached the subject, of course, and so we have no idea how to go about this.”
WHY IS it so hard for us initiate discussion with our children about sexuality? Why is it so embarrassing?
Yifat Tor Amid, a teacher of healthy sexuality at the Democratic School of Pardess Hanna, led this discussion and opened the evening by asking these very questions. Her answer was that the most important thing is to listen to our children, to avoid being judgmental and not to talk down to them.
“The absolute best place for holding discussions about embarrassing topics is in the car, since there’s no eye contact, they can’t run away, and it’s for a limited time,” counsels Tor Amid. “When there’s an announcement on the radio about a rape, our first instinct is to shut the radio off so our kids don’t hear about it. But it’s actually a great excuse to begin a conversation with our children about sexuality. We can explain what rape is and how to avoid it. It’s important to let the conversation lead to wherever the kids want it to, and to be open about our lives. We all want our kids to have a healthy sexuality.”
During these evening sexuality lectures, parents are welcome to ask any questions they want, and bring up whatever issues are difficult for them. Many participants share their own personal experiences.
One mother, Tali, spoke about incidents of sexual harassment that two of her daughters have experienced on the Internet, on the class WhatsApp group, and even by adults.
A father in the room then discussed his concern about the way sexuality is presented on TV shows, and how that gives our children a distorted image of what sexuality is.
“On reality TV shows, for example, there’s tons of sexual harassment going on, and none of the perpetrators ever have to deal with the consequences. That’s giving our kids a warped picture.”
Tor Amid, who was leading the session, responded, saying, “The most important thing we can do is open up the discussion. The more we initiate conversations with our kids, the more they’ll hear our ideas and learn what our values are, which hopefully will balance out what they’re learning from these awful TV shows. They shouldn’t have to process and deal with all of this alone. You can talk about specifics – is it okay to kiss someone? Take off your shirt? Talking about boundaries is important. What feels good and what do I want? For example, a great way to talk about porn is to explain how it’s not real. That in the real world, a boy needs to ask a girl if something feels good, which you’ll never see in porn.”
The 90-minute lectures offer parents lots of great ideas on how to approach the subject with their kids: not to begin by talking about danger and violence, but to begin with how healthy sexuality brings pleasure and happiness when carried out with mutual respect and healthy communication. Parents left with specific ideas and guidelines. They learned to use the metaphor of the sea – that it’s important to always be looking at the flags to see what color it is – black, white or red – so they can know if it’s safe to go into the water.
“We talk with the kids about equality, listening to your partner, looking them in the eye. The flag metaphor is very helpful. A white flag if we’re both interested, and in sync with one another. A red flag if something is not quite right or one of us is uncomfortable. This means the sea is not calm and so it’s not safe to go in. A black flag is raised if alcohol, drugs or sex is involved. At this point it’s definitely not safe to go in, and you should go look for an adult.”
Sharon and Doron, parents who attended the session, were very excited to go over everything they learned with their kids.
“It never occurred to us to first talk with our kids about the positive aspects of sexuality before getting into the negatives. It’s not a good idea to spend too much time talking about rape and violence. It’s better to focus on the closeness people feel to each other, how to form healthy relationships, and all the beautiful aspects of sexual connections.”