‘My son walks out of the room if we hug or say anything related to sex’

John Sharry: It is normal for teens to be embarrassed when they see their parents being affectionate

Question: My son who turned 13 a couple of months ago is very sensitive and cautious about having a conversation about how babies are made and sex.

Whenever either me or his dad say anything related to sex or even hug each other, he immediately looks away or walks out of the room. As well as it being slightly annoying that there can be no mention of kissing or hugging anywhere near him, we fear that there are different words and explanations circulating around his school and that he might get the wrong idea about how everything works which could backfire on him later in life. He assures us that he doesn't want to get married but we think it would be beneficial for him to learn about everything.

It's been going on like this for two and half years. Are we being too pushy and should we just move on or should we keep bringing it up every now and again? Any advice would be appreciated.

Answer: Many young teenagers are mortified at the prospect of talking about sex to their parents. It is also normal for them to be embarrassed when they see parents being affectionate (as this reminds them of the fact that their parents might be having sex!). This is normal for adolescents who are going through puberty and becoming self-conscious and private about their sexuality. For these reasons, it is often recommended to start conversations about sex and the facts of life at much younger ages when children are not embarrassed and take in the information in a more matter of fact way. Here are a couple of suggestions to help conversations with your son:


1 Think through the messages you are trying to communicate to your son and what you think he needs to know now in his life. I assume he has gone through the sex education curriculum in his school when he will have learnt explicitly about sex and relationships and the correct terms (schools often let parents know when this is happening).

2 Don't keep raising the subject directly if this embarrasses him and causes him to walk out. Instead, pick a good time to let him know that you are there for him if he needs to talk or ask questions about growing up, worries etc. Then back off and give him some space to come to you.

3 Respond when he communicates. For example, when says he does not want to get married take time to listen and draw him out. Don't give him advice or information, instead listen and ask him to say more: "That is interesting, how come you don't want to get married?" Make sure your tone is respectful and interested. It is in these nuggets of communication that he might reveal his thoughts and feelings.

4 Make sure you have lots of daily chatting times with your son such as travelling to and from sports or dinner time or late at night. This is not a time for you raising "heavy subjects" but simply listening and talking about everyday, ordinary things. It is during these everyday conversations that he might raise more serious subjects and you can be there to listen and respond.

5 See more information on talking to teens on sexualwellbeing.ie/for-parents.

John Sharry is founder of the Parents Plus Charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD School of Psychology. See solutiontalk.ie for details