Lily Isobella created the Courageous Conversations Parent Forum as a safe space to open up a line of communication on what can often be a sticky topic. FOCUS chats to Lily more about the programs she runs and the importance of parents being open about discussing sex with their children.
How did Courageous Conversations come about, and what happens at a forum?
I have worked for over 20 years helping women recover from sexual trauma, abusive relationships and the plethora of issues that come from having extraordinarily poor self-esteem and a dangerous relationship with body image.
The common theme for nearly every single woman was the reclamation of her sense of sacredness concerning her body and her sexuality. Time and again these were the foundational issues that these women needed to learn about. And time and again I heard the phrase: “I wish someone had taught me this when I was young.”
I started talking to other parents about how they relate to sexuality in their families. I spoke to social workers, youth workers, sexual health workers, intimacy coaches, trauma counsellors, doctors, psychologists and a lot of teachers. The message was really clear – our young people needed to have someone start an honest conversation with them about sexuality.
Our youth are intelligent, curious and resourceful. The forum is all about helping families communicate honestly, and safely. I help parents understand the world their kids are moving through and give them the tools to initiate and navigate a constantly meaningful and ever developing conversation.
How do your programs benefit parents?
I believe that the best conversations about sexuality can happen, and should happen, within the safe environment of the family home. For a myriad of reasons, this does not seem to be the case in a lot of families.
I think a number of parents feel ill equipped to handle the digital world their children are involved in and a lot of parents just do not know how, or where, to start the conversation. In all the research we did with parents, most of them were eager to be a part of the conversation, but unsure of when, what, and how much to share.
During the Courageous Conversations Parent Forums, we teach loads of age appropriate content, conversation starters and ways to handle the, “Oh my God, did you really just ask me that!” moments.
What kind of response do you get from participants?
I love watching parents attend the forums. They go from being nervous and giggling, or quiet and tense, to relaxed, open, engaged, and relieved! We play quite a few games in all the workshops, so it remains really low key and very approachable. Above all else, I want sex ed to be fun, in the same way sex can be fun (and geeky, awkward, giggly and outrageously silly).
The most common feedback we get from parents is that they wish they had this when they were young, and all of them leave with a renewed sense of “I can do this!”
Does our society still see sex as a taboo subject?
Absolutely. I think it is one of the last great forbidden conversations. You know the old axiom: “Polite people don’t talk about religion, money, politics or sex.” I politely disagree!
Sexuality is part of the human emotional spectrum that makes individuals so incredibly interesting. If you can approach a conversation about sex from an open minded, curious, compassionate perspective (and throw a huge helping of humour in there), you will learn so much about the people in your life and have some very memorable conversations.
For our children’s sake, we need to have these kinds of experiences. It helps them see that we are open to engaging with them, and that we can navigate and appreciate our own sexuality.
Why is it so important for parents or guardians to have open conversations about sex with their children?
Children are insatiably curious. The internet has been incredible for the education of children, allowing knowledge to be accessed that previously may have come at great cost. This however, when it comes to things like sexuality, can be a double-edged sword. Parents need to realise that kids are going to look for answers elsewhere if they can’t get them at home. They don’t just stop wondering when we stop talking.
I think it is vital for family (and extended, trusted family) to be the first source of good information in this case. Parents have a responsibility to understand the dynamics of this facet of their child’s development, and meet them in that place, with respect, and knowledge.
Can you share some tips on how parents can be more open about the subject or initiate conversations?
I cannot stress enough the importance of parents working on their own issues, all of the time! As with most things, children will model what they see, rather than what they hear. So, parents need to be addressing their own self-talk, their own body image issues, their own relationship dynamics and their own sexual beliefs. That journey will provide any parent with a lot of material.
But be savvy. Take the time to be with your kids, listen to the radio with them, watch movies with them, question what they are engaging with and make everything an opportunity for a conversation. Their lives are absolutely full, of messages about who and what they should be and your voice as a parent should be in that mix, but you have to meet them in their space to be successful at that.
How can people find out more?
I will be hosting a Courageous Conversations Parent Forum at the Port Mac Youth Hub on Tuesday, May 15, 6pm. Tickets are essential, as these usually sell out. You can find more info and grab your ticket at www.lilyisobella.com.au