Dear Dr. Bill,
Our daughter turned 14 this week and she is very innocent — perhaps even naïve for her age. Although we can talk about almost anything, she absolutely clams up whenever I bring up topics like boys, sexuality, or anything pertaining to these subjects. She’s also very shy and has trouble expressing affection to anyone but me. What can we do to help her open up more with us and our family?
Shyness can be a social handicap for kids and it can be frustrating for parents to deal with. It's important to understand that some kids are born with a genetic predisposition to be less outgoing than others.
Shy children can tend to be more anxious and less willing to tackle things that may be new or less familiar. Unfortunately, parents can sometimes compound the problem by either speaking for their child in social situations or by criticizing the child's shyness and harming their self-esteem.
Your daughter needs to know that you love her unconditionally and that you believe in her. Affirm her for her strengths and let her know that you understand that it can be difficult for her to express herself.
At the same time, you need to encourage her to express herself in socially appropriate ways, both inside and outside the family. There is a delicate balancing act here…you need to push her just enough to move outside of her shy comfort zone, but not so much that she feels guilt or embarrassment.
You mentioned she clams up whenever you try to talk to her about sex. A lot of young teens find it difficult or embarrassing to talk about sexuality with their parents. This is particularly true if your daughter is late entering puberty. For kids who are more introverted, talking about this issue can be particularly uncomfortable.
Let me recommend an excellent book that will guide you through the process of discussing the physical, emotional, and relational changes that come with puberty. It’s entitled How to Talk to Your Kids About Sexuality by Linda Klepacki and Robert Scherrer.
Thanks for writing Susie.
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