Trusted vs. Askable: Answering Difficult Questions
By Ruthie Kolb, Training Manager
October 13, 2016
Raising The Bar is less than 24 hours away! And with Raising The Bar in mind, I am taking a break from our regularly-scheduled programming this month to talk about why I am writing this monthly blog about answering questions from youth. A few weeks ago in our TRUST series, Blaire explained 5 reasons youth need Trusted Adults – But why “trusted” adults instead of “askable” adults? Who can be a Trusted Adult? And what exactly does it look like to be a Trusted Adult?
Trusted, Askable: What’s the difference?
Many in the sexual health world use the phrase “askable adults” instead of “trusted adults.” While it is just a change in words, it is very purposeful on Colorado Youth Matter’s part. “Askable adults” puts a lot of emphasis on waiting for young people to ASK. Have you ever had something you wanted to say to someone or ask someone, but it just didn’t ever seem like the right time or you were a little embarrassed to bring it up?
Of course you have; we all have. I did even just yesterday with my partner.. And I’m a grown adult who is used to bringing up tough conversations!
Adults need to make space for difficult conversations with youth. They need to start conversations early and often so that young people know they have a place where they can ask questions and receive accurate information. That’s why the difference between trusted and askable is so important: a Trusted Adult actively works to gain a young person’s trust, because they recognize that trust has to be earned; a Trusted Adult isn’t just someone youth go to for a one-time question, but someone youth know they can rely on. Overall, a Trusted Adult doesn’t wait passively for youth to ask them questions, but instead works hard to gain trust, creates space for hard conversations, and initiates dialogue.
Who are these rumored “Trusted Adults”?
Often, we have siloed misconceptions about whose job it is to talk about sex and other sensitive subjects with young people. Some think that it’s the sole responsibility of health, biology, or PE teachers, or school nurses, parents, or guardians. But in fact, it is ALL of our jobs to be approachable and prepared to have conversations with the youth in our lives – mentors, math teachers, tutors, coaches, after-school program staff, drop-in center staff, classroom paras, librarians, medical professionals…well, I think you get the idea. We all will have moments when we are the person who is available and trusted by a young person.
Do you have young people that you care about? Great! Then YOU are a part of the movement to make sexuality information and resources available and open to youth.
Most importantly, what do Trusted Adults DO?
First and foremost, Trusted Adults get informed. They make sure that they are knowledgeable; if they don’t know everything, they at least know how to find the answer. Trusted Adults don’t wait in worried silence for youth to drop a question; they recognize that sometimes it’s on them to start the conversation. These conversations can be uncomfortable for youth and adults, but it’s up to Trusted Adults to work through their discomfort and pass their information on to youth. You can also check out some of my previous TRUST blogs for some tips on how to work through some of the anxiety of talking about difficult topics.
Start small. If you start with a big question like “So, when was the last time you had sex?”, you may not get very far. Try out questions about what relationships they admire, what they want out of relationships, how they know when a person likes them, and keep having and building on those conversations.
Don’t worry, I won’t leave you with vague descriptions of conversation starters. Here are some actual question ideas for teens:
- Do you have friends who are in relationships that you admire? What do you like about their relationships?
- What do you look for in a person that you want to date?
- What is something about adult relationships that you see that you would do differently?
- Have you ever had someone who wanted to do something physical with you that you didn’t want? What did you do?
- What is something special about you that you could bring to your romantic relationships?
- What would you look for to know that you were ready to have sex with someone? What would you do to make sure they were ready to have sex with you?
- What is the most loving thing a person has ever done for you?
- How far do you feel comfortable going with someone physically? Do you feel like you could tell your partners that?
Furthermore, adults must start talking with younger children as well. Trusted Adults should strive to give young people accurate information before they learn rumored, inaccurate information from sketchy online sites or their peers. Often, parents I talk with are worried – what if I tell my child TOO MUCH? The truth is, you probably won’t. Children NEED information about their sexuality as they are developing, and if they are learning it from you and not from playground rumors, they are learning that you are an open and trustworthy source of information. Adults are often worried that knowledge about sexuality will make their children go have sex, but research shows the opposite. When young people have accurate information about sexuality, they are more likely to make less risky sexual decisions.
But just in case you are still worried, our website has researched guidance on age-appropriate information (//coloradoyouthmatter.org/resources/age-appropriate-guide). Here you will find the typical sexual development and corresponding information to share with young people at different life-stages – from birth to young-adulthood.
So, if you are the Trusted Adult who connects a young person to the information they need, great! If you want to be one, get out there, get informed, and start talking.