Teens just wanna talk about sex...without judgement, according to advocates at a Tuesday Annual Meeting session.

Teens just wanna talk about sex…without judgment, according to advocates at a Tuesday Annual Meeting session.

Some local teens here in Atlanta have advice not only for those of you working in public health, but especially for all of us parents.

When it comes to sex education, teens want to talk.

“It’s really important to affirm to young people, especially as they begin to explore their sexuality, that their experiences are normal and allowed and valued, and their parents are a safe space,” said Jo Pennington, a high school peer educator with the Teen Action Group program. She was one of several presenters at the late Tuesday Annual Meeting session on “Voices of youth: teen engagement in reproductive health.”

Alina Holt, who writes the “Ask Alia” column for local teen-produced website VoxATL.com, said many teens fear judgment from their parents.

“Always pay attention to what your child is saying,” she told session attendees. “Listen. Pay attention to the signs that they give you.” Then, initiate a conversation. “It breaks the ice because they’re going to be nervous about coming to you.”

A survey of more than 800 Dallas-area teens (an area where the teen pregnancy rate is well above the national and state average) found teens want credible information about sex but expect their parents to judge them if they ask questions.

“Parents can be rigid when they’re approached,” said presenter Petronella Ahenda, a PhD candidate at Texas Women’s University. “For everyone who is a parent, that’s a takeaway. They do want to talk to you. They just don’t know how.”

Ahenda, who grew up in Kenya, said this is a worldwide phenomenon. She didn’t feel comfortable talking with her parents about sex.

“We need to have youth-friendly organizations train youth-friendly individuals on how to talk to teens,” she said.

Other teens and young adults at the session said to not assume a teen is sexually active just because you hear a sex-related question. And really, said presenter Deontez Wimbley of Planned Parenthood Southeast, start a healthy dialogue way early. Call a baby’s body parts by their medically appropriate terms, not something like “your no-no area,” he said.

Wimbley is kind of a reproductive health rock star because he’s helped with so many local projects aimed at bringing science-based, helpful sex education to youth. He said he has a vision.

“The future of sex education is really looking at sex education as a tool, not a goal. A tool for social justice,” he said. “Condoms will not stop oppression. Condoms will not stop sexism.”

What will? New approaches like linking HIV-positive young adults with local elected officials so the two can work together to affect meaningful change. Or helping teens understand what healthy relationships look like, and if you’re a parent, try to be available if your teens want to talk.

“It’s really important that we have partners in this work as well,” said Susan Landrum, executive director of VOX in Atlanta. Her organization, known as “Atlanta’s home for teen publishing and self-expression,” leads an annual teen survey that offers a great snapshot of how teens spend time online and the kind of information they’re looking for. If you want to partner, check out their staff page and reach out.