For Parents and Guardians
We've been here providing comprehensive, inclusive and progressive sex and relationships information, education and support for young people all around the world since 1998, and around five million unique users a year visit our website to explore what we offer. We've got thousands of pages of carefully researched, written and curated information here, as well as several direct services for one-on-one support. We've been winning awards almost from the start because we put a lot of heart and care into what we do here, and we are and have always been deeply dedicated to doing the very best we can to provide young people with the information and support they need, and ask us for, throughout. We know how important this is, and we know how complicated it can be, too. We take what we do here very seriously, even at times when we're being light or silly in some of our approach. We believe that healthy sexual development, and information and support that helps encourage it, is essential for sound health and quality of life for all people, of every age, sexuality or set of sexual and interpersonal choices. We want to do all we can to help young people feel good about their sexual selves, whoever they are, and to create and cultivate sexual lives, whatever they are, that are as happy, healthy and beneficial as possible.
Scarleteen is ultimately a resource for young people, and we advocate for young people first and foremost. But we also always hope that we are, and aim to be, a resource and set of services which can also provide information, reassurance and support for families, something that helps families stay close -- rather than be driven apart or sink into silence -- and do well together when it comes to sex and sexuality.
If you'd like to find out more about who we are and what we do, you can find out more about us via the following links:
- All About Scarleteen
- Scarleteen Confidential: For Parents & Guardians Who Want to Know
- Scarleteen Is...
- About the Staff & Volunteers
- What is Healthy Sexual Development?
- What Would Maria Do? One Sex Educators Ever-Evolving Manifesto
- Why do our readers love Scarleteen so much?
- A Calm View from the Eye of the Storm: Hysteria, Youth and Sexuality
- What is Feminist Sex Education?
- Why We're Pro-Choice
- All About S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book!
- Who's been talking about sex education at Scarleteen?
Or, if you'd like to hear me prattle on a bit more about the bigger picture...
I'm someone who (obviously) doesn't have conflict or big challenges talking with young people about sex, sexuality and relationships. Like anyone else who does the same, the effort I have put into making sure I keep working on doing better and better with it, I feel I've improved with it over time, and developed more and more comfort with it over time, but the fact is that I started off more comfortable, in less conflict and with more skills on hand than many people do. I also am not doing it as their parent, but as an educator, which is an easier talk in some important ways.
Parents and guardians who already feel pretty comfortable and skilled at this point, and who don't feel a conflict when it comes to active parenting with sex and sexuality in ways based in facts as much as feelings are probably already on board with everything else I'm about to say. You guys can probably just skip to exploring the site, either alone or with someone you are the parent or guardian of, and start digging in to find what you need, be it for yourself or the young person or people you care about.
Everyone left may find those parents and guardians who just skipped off the proverbial room at least a little annoying sometimes. It's okay if you do.
When something feels so hard -- and it does to many parents, including many who are truly wonderful parents -- it can be irritating to see someone else make it look so easy. It's okay: they probably understand because they were probably you once, and may even not be you today, but may be where you're at again in six months or even a week when something challenges them anew about all of this.
Personally, I suggest a good first step is to bypass any struggling over whether you should or shouldn't talk about or provide information about these topics. Because of course you should, just like you do all other major parts of life with your children.
In a lot of ways, not talking about sex, sexuality and relationships would be like not talking about a family pet, or about the planet we live on: you'd literally be silencing or denying something that is a major part of life and personal identity for most people. Sex and relationships information is also often important health and safety information, like knowing how to call the fire department, how to safely cross the street, and what to do if you step on a rusty nail.
So, of course, you should talk about sex, sexuality and relationships. That's a given. From there, I think this is about figuring out what's the right information at the right time, based on the person you care for per their own personal development -- what's stage-appropriate for them -- and personality, what you feel like you can do at any given time based on who you are, and how you, and they, as a team, want to go about all of this. And when it comes to someone like us, it's about recognizing that both they -- and you -- are going to want to talk to someone besides each other sometimes, for any number of reasons, including an emotionally healthy desire for independence or privacy, and figuring out if you feel good about us as one (and hopefully one of at least several) places you and they can trust for both accurate information, but also healthy boundaries and safe, sound support.
Just so you know, it is not ever our intent to tell the young people in your life what choices they should make. Instead, we aim to furnish them with comprehensive, inclusive and current sexuality information to consider and to inform their choices, as well as a kind and thoughtful community for support, listening and discussion, so that they may learn how to make their own, uniquely best choices, as fully informed, and with as much sound context, as possible. What we support is whatever set of choices a young person feels are their own very best, based in realities, who they are uniquely, and what their unique circumstances are.
By the time many people are in their teens, sexuality is a major issue. Some are sexually active as teens, others are not, but for many, if they get accurate sex education, and support in their sexualities, at all, most receive it long after they need it, and many turn first to peers -- who often have as little accurate information as they do -- or to mainstream media. That's all the more likely when parents themselves have not already long established ongoing open, honest and non-judgmental communication -- not just one talk late in the game -- with them about sex and sexuality.
We provide Scarleteen out of necessity, and a self-expressed need from young people themselves for this information. Peers are often not an accurate (and certainly not an unbiased) source of sexual information, even for the older segment of our userbase in their twenties. Many links on the 'net to sex information are often misrepresented links to sexual entertainment sites, which certainly are not often accurate sources, nor is it their intention to act as such, or DIY information where the facts aren't facts at all, or the information is woefully incomplete. Adult sexuality education is often not appropriate for or applicable to young people, and neither is super-basic sex information for very young children. The media, television and movies are rarely an accurate source, but young adults are exposed to sex in mainstream media and on the net en masse, whether they seek it out or not.
I truly hope the young person or people in your life don't need or use Scarleteen as their sole source of information and support. There's a lot we can do, but one thing we really can't is to be you, their parent or guardian, who has a very different -- and far more influential -- role in their lives. Ideally, we would like it to be used as a companion to other accurate, unbiased information and support you are giving your child yourself, as well as other good sources of nformation, support, or both, like good healthcare providers, quality sex ed in school (when they attend school and it is provided there, as it sadly often isn't), and caring and supportive extended family members and in-person community.
What you can do to enable this very important development is simply to be open, to be candid, and to be as honest and as accepting and supportive as you can be. You can use this site, or other sites and resources we recommend, to make sure your information pieces are current and complete. Please don't get discouraged if you're doing your best to do all of this, and your teen doesn't respond as you'd like: it's normal for young adults to prefer to do much of their talking about sex with peers, extended family members, siblings or mentors. It's a part of healthy adolescent development to gradually separate from parents, and this is often one arena where that happens the most. If you hold the door open and they don't want to come in just yet, or about every aspect of sex, sexuality and relationships, that's okay. Just keep it open for when they do, and when they do come through, just do your best.
Many teens tell us they simply can't talk to their parents because they "wouldn't understand." We usually tell them that in fact, many parents probably would understand, or would certainly want to try, they just have to give you a chance. By all means, some parents are truly awful parents, but we generally feel confident that you will treat them with the love, respect, kindness and care in regard to their sexuality that you am to give them with everything else. We've got your back. We know you can rock this.
Looking for some recommended reading?
I like the following guides for parents:
- Arnett, Jeffrey Jansen. Emerging Adulthood. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2015.
- Gore, Ariel. The Hip Mama Survival Guide. New York: Hyperion Books, 1998.
- ———. Whatever, Mom: Hip Mama’s Guide to Raising a Teenager. Emeryville, CA: Seal Press, 2004.
- Kindlon, Dan, and Michael Thompson. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys. New York: Ballantine Books, 2000.
- Leach, Penelope. Children First. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.
- Levine, Judith. Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from Sex. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 2002.
- Medhus, Elisa. Raising Children Who Think for Themselves. Hillsboro, OR: Beyond Words Publishing, 2001.
- Pipher, Mary. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005.
- Rayne, Karen. Breaking the Hush Factor: The Ten Rules Every Parent Should Know Before Talking with Their Teen About Sex. Austin, TX: Impetus Books, 2015.
- Roffman, Deborah M. Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing, 2001.
- Siegel, Daniel J. Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2015.
- Vernacchio, Al. For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health. New York: HarperCollins, 2014.
- Weil, Zoe. Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2003.
I like these sexuality books for readers younger than the age group we serve, or readers in the age group we serve with disabilities that may make content geared for younger readers a better fit:
- Blank, Joani. A Kid’s First Book About Sex. San Francisco: Down There Press, 1993.
- Blank, Joani, and Marcia Quackenbush. Playbook for Kids About Sex. San Francisco: Down There Press, 1981.
- Bryan, Jennifer. The Different Dragon. Two Lives Publishing, 2006.
- Gravelle, Karen. What’s Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask. New York: Walter & Company, 1998.
- Harris, Robbie H. It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2004.
- ———. Who’s in My Family?: All About Our Families. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press, 2012.
- Herthel, Jessica. I Am Jazz. Dial Books, 2014.
- Kilodavis, Cheryl. My Princess Boy. Aladdin, 2010.
- Loulan, JoAnn, and Bonnie Worthen. Period.: A Girl’s Guide to Menstruation. Minnetonka, MN: Book Peddlers, 2001.
- Madaras, Lynda. The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Girls: A Growing Up Guide for Parents and Daughters. New York: Newmarket Press, 2000.
- ———. The “What’s Happening to My Body?” Book for Boys: A Growing Up Guide for Parents and Sons. New York: Newmarket Press, 2000.
- Mayle, Peter. “What’s Happening to Me?” A Guide to Puberty. New York: Lyle Stuart, 2000.
- ———. Where Did I Come From? New York: Lyle Stuart, 2000.
- Richardson, Justin. And Tango Makes Three. New York: Little Simon, 2015.
- Schiffer, Miriam B. Stella Brings the Family. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2015.
- Silverberg, Cory, and Fiona Smyth. What Makes a Baby? New York: Seven Stories Press, 2015.
- ———. Sex Is a Funny Word. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2015.
- Spelman, Cornelia Maude. Your Body Belongs to You. Park Ridge, IL: Albert Whitman & Company, 1997.
You may also want to have a look at some sexuality books written FOR teens and young adults, both to get up-to-date with your own sexual education (so that when you talk to them, you can be sure you're not giving them misinformation: after all, most adults didn't get great sex education, either), and to get a good idea of what kinds of issues are relevant for them now, and what sorts of approaches to those issues they tend to appreciate. You can start with my book, S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties. It includes an extensive bibliography and resource list in the back that features many other sexuality and relationship books for teens and emerging adults.
Be sure to also use excellent online resources available for both yourself and the teens and emerging adults in your life. Each section of our site includes a sidebar on the right listing other sites we feel are very valuable.
The very best thing I feel like I can ever tell parents is to trust yourself, and to follow your desire and aim to be the kind of parent you really want to be, who is also probably, in many ways, the kind of parent you wanted when you were a teen or emerging adult. If you approach this area of parenting with the love, care, thoughtfulness, respect and courage you've hopefully approached every other area of parenting with, you really will do just fine. Truly, if you make a real effort to do this part of parenting well, even if and when you stumble or misstep -- as all mere mortals are wont to do from time to time -- the person or people you parent will see it, feel it, and probably get the most important part of what they most want and need from you.
It's always okay for parents to come into our direct services and ask for help, support, or just for someone to listen. So do please avail yourself of us as a resource for you should you ever want or need us. We're glad to be in your corner.
Scarleteen Founder and Director