Emily Saltzman is the program coordinator for Planned Parenthood New York’s Adult Role Models Program. She will appear on Ma’yan’s Progressive Sex Education Panel on March 14 2012. If you have a question for Emily or any of the panelists that you would like answered during the session, please send an e-mail to Pippi Kessler
Ma’yan: The Adult Role Models Program is designed to “diminish the anxiety many parents feel when talking with their children about sexuality.” Where does this anxiety come from? How do your programs aim to diminish it?
Emily Saltzman: Through our conversations with parents, we find that this anxiety stems from the fear that they may “say the wrong thing” when their child asks them questions related to sexuality. For many parents, there are few opportunities to practice these conversations. Not many had these conversations modeled by their own parents. Children and adolescents are getting an influx of mixed messages from the media, peers and family members around sexuality and these influences can add to a parent’s anxiety when discussing sexuality with their children. Parents may think, “I’m too late” or “How can I empower my child around this topic when I’m still struggling with these issues as an adult?” The Adult Role Models (ARM) program allows parents to engage with each other around these issues, while also using communication tools to help ease this anxiety.
What are some common misconceptions parents have about talking to their kids about sex?
We find that parents often wonder if they have said “too much” or “not enough” when they answer their children’s questions about sexuality. In the third workshop in our 4-part ARM workshop series, we discuss that children and adolescents take what they need from our conversations. Meaning that they pick up pieces from our conversations to answer their question and tune out any “unnecessary” information. To this end, we explain that our children often remember the rhythm or the feelings behind our conversations instead of the actual content. With that said, it is even more important that we remain calm, engaged and receptive to our children’s questions so that they feel comfortable coming back to us when they have more questions.
How does the Adult Role Models Program deal with different parents’ backgrounds and beliefs?
The ARM Program is unique in that it supports providing our children with accurate, age-appropriate sexuality material while also encouraging parents to share their family values around these issues. In workshop 2 of our workshop series we discuss the stages of child sexual development so that parents know what to expect as their child ages. Equipped with this information, parents attending workshop 3 have an opportunity to role play common sexuality question scenarios. For example, an adolescent may ask questions about birth control methods. We guide parents in how to discuss the different types of birth control methods accurately, while also sharing their family values on the subject. Our workshops drive the point home that it is extremely important to provide their children with accurate information about their bodies and relationships with others so that we can empower them to make their own decisions, while also sharing our hopes and expectations for them. This provides our young people with boundaries and support while also answering their questions accurately.
What kind of sex education did you receive growing up? How did you figure out that this is what you wanted to do?
When I was in 3rd grade a friend of mine told me how babies were made. She was extremely accurate, even drawing sperm on a small chalkboard in her bedroom. I was not convinced. It just sounded too weird. After asking my mother about it she confirmed that my friend was indeed correct. In college I remember reflecting on this conversation with my mother and she explained that she felt defeated and a bit upset that she was not the first person to explain to me how babies were made. My mother had a whole conversation planned out and when she was beaten to the punch – so to speak – she shut down and thought she was too late.
This experience in addition to studying gender and sexuality in an academic setting brought me to this work. Sexuality is so often boiled down to one thing – sexual behavior – and it is so much more than that. At Planned Parenthood of NYC, we describe sexuality as a wheel that includes relationships, body image, pleasure, sexual activity, sexual orientation, reproductive health, anatomy, love and gender. Sexuality is a part of our lives in a multitude of ways and keeping our minds, bodies and relationships healthy can only benefit us in our pursuits for empowerment, love and pleasure.