One of the most common pieces of advice that is given to parents, guardians, teachers, grandparents, and others alike is to be an “askable adult”. Quite simply: An adult that young people see as approachable, and they feel comfortable asking any question. When kids are young, the “askable adult” role is easy! “Why is the sky blue?”, “Why do people wear glasses?”, “Why are apples red?” …okay, so maybe the questions aren’t easy, but they certainly are easier than the topics when they get older.
It’s during the pre-teen/teenage years when trying to be an “askable adult” may start to become difficult. This is a time when young people have more questions about drugs/sexual health and likely will turn to the internet for answers. If they cannot find what they are looking for or if the information is confusing, the hope is we have proven ourselves to be “askable adults” and they will come to us for clarity.
Research has consistently shown that trusted adults in a teenager’s life rank highly when it comes to influence about topics such as drugs and sexual health (with parents/guardians sitting atop the list followed by friends, religious leaders, media, and teachers). We have no control over the fact that friends and media serve as a source of information and will always be a part of a young person’s life (with good and bad information) however, we can continue to sharpen our skills as “askable adults.”
Tips for Askable Adults
- Answer questions when asked
It is not easy to approach trusted adults with questions so whenever they are presented, address them. Even if the timing may not be ideal. Maybe say something like “Thank you for asking me. I have to leave for work right now, but I’ll text you during my lunch break and we can also talk later tonight about this”. Keep in mind that some young people may wait for the moments that they know we are busy to approach us. Doing so gives them the ability to get something off of their chest while knowing that the conversation will not have to happen in that moment.
- Don’t act on assumptions
It is normal to wonder why a young person may be asking a question about drugs or other topics but providing an answer/response to the specific question asked should be the first thing we do. Diving too deep into why they’re asking the question may cause them to feel they need to divulge information that they aren’t comfortable sharing yet. Just start with the questions they want answered, then when they’re ready they may want to share the rest of the story. Consistently doing so can increase visibility as a nonjudgmental resource of information.
- Accept the impact of technology
Now, more than ever, it is important that trusted adults provide young people with accurate information. So be honest when you do not know something. Information is at our fingertips nowadays and if a young person discovers that they were given misinformation they may hesitate to approach us with questions in the future.
- Remove gender from the equation (sexual health topics)
It is common for young people to hear things like “you need a man/woman to talk to you about that”. Comments like these usually originate from a place of positivity and the desire to create comfort but putting the perception that you are not a good source of information on certain topics can push young people away from asking you questions in the future. Topics that generally are referred to a specific gender revolve around sexual health topics like puberty changes (periods, erections, etc) since practical knowledge as a male or female, does sometimes go a long way.
As an “askable adult” you may not have all of the answers, but you are someone that can be trusted to help. Just like if a young person came to us needing medical assistance, many times we do not have the background knowledge to help, so we call 911. After help arrives, we do not leave the young person to fend for themselves…we join them and gain the knowledge necessary to work together toward their overall health. Taking this same approach to providing information to young people about sexual health topics leaves the door open to being an “askable adult” that not only improves the information given, but also provides insight into the topics that are “top of mind” for these young people.
Written by: Lance Williams-Education Manager, Candor Health Education