OMGness, nothing freaks parents out more than imagining “The Talk.”
I had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing Karen Kropf from Positively Waiting on the topic of talking with our children about sex. We often think of it as a one-time talk. Karen has spoken to tens of thousands of teens and she’s learned some techniques to help parents.
In this interview you’ll hear common questions boys and girls ask. You’ll learn her number one tips for Moms and Dads. You’ll also hear birds in the background and watch her almost eat a bug. I hope this 15 minute video helps you to know how to talk with your kids more effectively.
At the end of this post you’ll find links to Karen’s books and organization.
Paula: I’m here with Karen Kropf and she is an author and speaker who speaks to teenagers and parents on the topic of sexual purity and she has been doing so for 14 years. She has written two books, has an organization called Positively Waiting and I am just so excited to have her with us.
I have to admit we are in my front yard, so we may have some interesting background noises, but we’re going to do our best.
Karen: Hi Paula
Paula: Hi Karen. So now, what inspired you to write your book? What is the name of your book?
Karen: My book is called Raising Teens with Sexual Self-Control: A Parents Survival Guide.
Paula: And what inspired you to write it?
Karen: What inspired me is…I had been talking to teenagers since 1998. Teens respond to me, because of the story I have. And so, in talking with teenagers, I always felt I can connect with teens, but I would never have the nerve to actually instruct parents. I felt that because my history includes the fact that I am not a parent. Um, I felt like it would be disrespectful for me to tell parents how to parent. So, for a number of years I was very reluctant.
But I did learn a technique that works with teenagers, helping them to process very complicated feelings, like sexuality and that sort of thing. And I felt that I can, without (you know)going overboard, I can explain this technique.
So, I did a workshop in Sacramento, a couple of hundred people there, where I showed the technique that I teach through my organization. And a dad came up to me and he said, “Karen, I’ve been to four of these talks for parents to help their kids.” He said, “I have two boys that are football players.”
He said, “And every single time, I come away feeling like the message is ‘All Men Are Dogs.’ And since I’m a man, I’m supposed to tell my kids, ‘I’m a dog.’”
He said, “This is the first time I actually got something that was positive and practical. And what I want to know is, where are the resources that will teach me more of this technique?”
And I ran through my mind all of the resources I recommended over the years, some excellent. But I realized, nobody teaches my technique. So I sat down and decided, if I stick to the one area which I am qualified to speak on, no other parenting issue, if I speak on this one area, I can explain to parents: this is how to navigate the sexual decision making with your teenager so they make decisions both of you can live with.
Paula: And you’ve had, over the course of the years, many successes.
Karen: (nodding) Many successes.
Paula: Many…you were saying at an event I was at, that you’ve spoken about sex, what, ten thousand times?
Karen: Well, I’ve spoken about sex to around ten thousand teenagers a year, since 1998.
So, I would do it hundreds of times in a year, hundreds of times in a year. And the kids respond. They respond to what we have to say, they respond to the way we say it. Their hearts are just wide open for some adult who will come alongside and say, help us process not the data, but the feeling.
Paula: Because kids aren’t that into the data. I mean they can read a book. They can get sexual education at school. But, what are they interested in? What does affect their hearts?
Karen: You know what the most common question from girls is? “If I do this, he’ll stay with me forever, won’t he?”
And for boys it’s, “Well, if I do it just one time, I’ll stop thinking about it all the time, won’t I?”
And their trying to figure out, “How do I manage these feelings that are overwhelming and confusing and they’re so powerful, this must be love.”
The magical tingling feeling is confusing.
So, unless mom and dad are the first, best source to help navigate, “Okay ,this feeling you’re having, this is what we talked about. This is exactly that sensation that I told you when you were ten, when you were eleven, when you were twelve that would overwhelm you. This is it.”
“The most important thing is for you to be in control of it and it doesn’t control you, if you want to make good relationship decisions.”
Paula: That’s fascinating and your second book kind of addressed that right?
Karen: My second book was actually my first book.
Paula: Oh, my bad.
Karen: You know, I wrote the book. I wrote my first book. It’s called, Sex Makes People Stupid (How to Avoid Ending Up With a Weenie) and I wrote that book because I had been talking with teenagers for years and years and years. And I had some of the kids I had talked to when they were fourteen, fifteen, now they’re calling me ten years later. They’re in college.
And they’re saying, “Karen, what you taught me helped me to get through high school so that I am still a virgin, but now I’m ready to date….” (grabs at bug in the air)
Paula: Yes, I saw that bug in the air. You have this nice little bug. The privileges of the front yard. (both laughing)
Karen: So, I had kids who I had talked to when they were in high school. They called me up. They said, “Karen, what you taught me really helped me, I’m still a virgin. But now, I’m ready to look for, for my spouse. And I don’t know how to do this. Everything is telling me, oh you have to go after porn or you have to do these kind of things. You know it’s all based on sex. How do I manage this?”
And I said to one girl, “Sweetheart, sex makes people stupid. You cannot avoid a weenie if you are going on those magical tingly feelings.”
And so, you know, that’s where the title came from. And so I had this conversation about six times and I thought to myself, “Oh my Lord, if I get hit by a bus, who is going to help my kids navigate this?”
So, I sat down and wrote eight chapters in three days. I had so much to say.
Karen: And so my first book was for young adults who are trying to navigate so they don’t make the mistakes my generation made. That was a fun book to write, then and I wrote it the way that I speak. It’s very funny. It’s easy to understand. It has tips for both males and females. It’s a lot of fun.
Paula: Speaking of that. Are there spots on Youtube or things like that where we can see you speak to groups?
Karen: No (laughing).
Karen: You’ve got to edit that out.
Paula: She is awesome! Just so you know. She is very to the point. She is focused. She is willing to say that tough thing that you probably are terrified to stick out of your mouth. I love that about you and I am gonna leave that in. (laughing)
So, so what is something you could tell parents, right now to, as a place to start. Obviously reading your books.
Karen: Yes, read my books.
Paula: Go to the website, PositivelyWaiting.com. But what else, what could we do right now to begin the process of helping our kids to be successful in waiting sexually until they get married, because that’s God’s design for them?
Karen: God’s design. As parents, you want what’s best for your child. God’s design is that they should have only one, uninfected, lifetime partner. It’s an excellent standard, even if you don’t share our theology. The idea that you would have one person, who loves you for a lifetime, happily and faithfully.
Well, how do you get there?
You have to start setting it up when they are very young. You have to give them an idea that: a) it’s possible, and b) there are skills to get there.
My number one tip for dads: Date Your Daughter, starting at age five. She should be looking forward to the date with daddy Saturday morning, you go to McDonalds for an hour. You have a yogurt, whatever it is. And so what you want to do is starting very young is layer upon layer of experiences with a man who loves her. So that when she goes to date, in her mind it’s “this is what love feels like.”
I know this is loving behavior and what you’re doing is not loving. My daddy loves me. He doesn’t speak to me that way. I know what love feels like because I have all these experiences to compare them to.
Paula: This gives Dads power.
Karen: It’s huge.
Paula: I mean because otherwise you feel like you’re , they’re too old, I can’t do anything now. That gives a Dad something he can proactively do.
Paula: What about Moms?
Karen: Now, for moms, the difficulty is that moms want to protect, totally get that. You know I’m sure that you have visions in your head of your child crawling toward a light socket with the keys. And you’ve just been swooping in and taking danger out of their path, which I so want to honor.
At the same time, we want children to be able to connect behavior with consequences. And when mom makes the decision and removes the distress or the unpleasant consequence out of the way, the child does not experience, “My behavior led to this consequence.”
And so when they go out into the real world, they are so accustomed to having things smoothed away that they don’t recognize the decisions you make now, now, can hurt you forever. So, if moms can learn to pull back, allow the child to make decisions.
Tell them you can go ahead…I mean obviously not something that can cause pain or serious damage, but a decision that can have an unpleasant consequence. You start fairly young. You tell them, “I believe it you do this ten this will be the result.” That’s your choice.
Then when they have the result they think, “Oh my gosh, Mom is brilliant.”
Paula: It’s true.
Karen: And then Mom becomes the first, best source of information.
Paula: We have a joke with my kids because I will say to them things like, “you know I think (such and such) is going to happen because you did that.”
And they are going, “no it won’t.” And then it happens and they go, “Mom, how did you know?” and I tell them, “Because I’m a smart chika mommy.”
Karen: Yes, because I have magic Mommy intuition. And that’s what you want. You establish that early on when they are preteens and then by the time they are teenagers and they are going through this confusion, they are thinking, “Well Mom knew the answer to all of those things.”
Not, “Mom thinks I can’t do anything” or “Mom makes all the decisions because she can’t trust me.” Which unfortunately is how teenagers process things.
Paula: Right, because they assume not that you don’t trust all those other people that are trying to get at them. And we know they are.
Paula: They’re thinking, “You don’t trust me.”
Karen: Well, the truth is, if what you’re saying is, “Sweetheart, it’s not you. I mean it’s not you I don’t trust. I don’t trust all these other people.” What you’re saying is, “I don’t trust your ability to recognize all these other people you can’t trust.”
And so, that’s how teens internalize that.
Paula: And it happens to boys as well as girls.
Paula: And uh, dads…
Karen: The saddest thing teens ever tell me is, “My parents think I can’t do anything right.”
I know that no parent is ever willing, deliberately taking that position. And yet, it is the most common thing I hear from teenagers when they’ve gotten into that phase when they want to make decisions, but Mom and Dad are really ready to let them experience the distress of that.
Paula: And those things are linked with other things.
Karen: Oh yes.
Paula: If parents don’t think they can make wise choices with food. If they don’t think they can make wise choices with who they play with. If they don’t think they…then, then when it comes time for sex, “well, you just don’t think I can make wise choices.”
Karen: It’s you know, the decisions about sex are very similar to when your child wants to stay up very late, and you say, “Well, if you stay up very late you’re going to have a hard time focusing in class tomorrow. But fine, if that’s your decision. You’re not going to do well on that test.”
And you have to be okay with them not doing okay on that test. And you’re going to have to make it up. And, “Gee I’m really sorry but that was your choice and this is the consequence.”
It’s the same thing. Where, if what you want to do is you want to wear clothing that lets boys think about you as just an object, then boys are going to treat you like you’re just an object. And they’re not going to be interested in your hopes and dreams and opinion and advice and counsel and all of those other things.
I’m sorry that you made that choice. He only sees you as a playmate or a plaything. It wasn’t a good choice. Again, that’s something in the child’s control. It’s something you can say. I made the decision to wear this and the consequence is this.
Paula: It becomes empowering
Paula: And for boys it can become empowering in the same way helping them to realize I don’t have to choose…What?
Karen: Well a lot of times for boys the pressure physically is so powerful. The, the, the hormones that rush through their bodies, the visual thoughts, the things that they see that cause them to have sexual thoughts is so intense and so difficult to control in the early stage. And if Mom and Dad haven’t prepared them for that. Haven’t said, “Look, this is going to happen.”
Just in the same way you get more testosterone. You become more aggressive. It doesn’t mean because you have testosterone flowing through your body that now you can beat up your little brother. It’s not okay. It’s going to come, you’re going to have more of it, and you’re going to have to learn to control it.
What does that mean?
That means you work off your aggression, you know, playing basketball or doing something physical. It means that you don’t give in to the moodiness. You recognize, this is a mood. This is part of how my body is changing and you do something about it.
And we also have to teach our boys, it’s not okay to use people. And we have to teach our girls, it’s not okay to use people.
Paula: And when we’re looking to have sex or we’re looking to flirt or looking to get as far as we want to go, we’re using people.
Karen: Yeah, exactly. Girls don’t realize that you would hate it if a boy was using you for sex, but if you’re using him to feel pretty and get attention and feel desirable and to reaffirm yourself as someone who is attractive and lovable, then you are also using him on an emotional level.
Paula: I love what you give us. I love the information you have in your books and on your website and just thank you so much for joining me in this loud liv, loud front yard.
Karen: Thank you.
For further information:
Karen’s Organization is Positively Waiting.