Study after study has shown that kids want to learn about sex & puberty from their parents. A Time magazine report (2009) suggests that parents need to talk about sex much earlier than they do.
Let’s face it, our kids are surrounded with all kinds of media references to sex and maturation — through t.v., radio, music videos (not to mention the internet).
Whether you like to admit it or not, our kids are going to hear and “learn” about puberty, sex, and adolescence somewhere (at the playground, on the bus, from peers, older kids . . .). The reality is that too many children begin to learn about sex from everyone but their parents. Yet, the best place for a child to learn about sex is from those who care most about him/her — those who can frame the information in an accurate and caring context.
As parents, we wonder how old our children should be before we introduce sex and maturation. Experts agree that it is “younger than you think.”
We parents need to take the lead in introducing these important, life-lasting topics. Sure, there’s the (gasp!) sex ed course at school; but we can’t merely leave this all-important topic to our respected and trusted school nurses. It’s bigger than that. As parents, we also need to supplement and round out the basic facts presented in those all-too-well-known-two-hour-sex-ed-classes. In reality, these forums often occur “late in the game,” (after many kids have most likely had some (yes!) introduction to the topics) . . . and these settings cannot truly nurture the ongoing dialogue that these topics require.
Take a d…e…e…p breath and relax. If you think about it, you’ve really already begun the “sex talk.” You’ve probably identified body parts to your preschooler, engaged in conversation with your youngster about why
Aunt Sally’s (pregnant) belly is bigger than usual, and acknowledged some of the differences between boys and girls. You’re simply upon the next step of the journey. Put yourself in the lead and journey on.
As you take the lead, continue to grasp those “teachable moments.” If your child doesn’t present any real teachable moments, create some “educational moments” of your own.
Along your journey, keep in mind a few things:
- Remember that your kids want information. And they want it from you. They might not tell you (they might not want you thinking that they’re thinking about this stuff!), but they want the information. And, they want it from you. (Deep down they know that their friends don’t really have all the facts.)
- Strive to be a “go-to parent” — an “askable” parent. When you build accessibility and credibility with your kids, you will develop long-lasting trust and respect. It’s this trust that we want our kids to rely on when they are inevitably faced with later decisions regarding sexual and other behavior.
- Start early and consider it a journey. Build on the information you’ve already provided throughout the preschool and elementary years. Introduce new topics and revisit them. Kids will understand, synthesize, and internalize the same information at different times and in different ways, depending on their developmental stage and maturity level. Some schools repeat the same sex ed course two years in a row . . . because developmentally, kids will be at different stages to understand and relate to the information
- Capture those teachable moments and look for new ones. Keep your eyes and ears open for opportunities to venture into sex-related topics – from t.v., a movie, a book, or as you or your child notices physical changes occurring. Take a casual approach . . . and keep your sense of humor.
- Don’t be afraid to get in touch with any discomfort you may have . . . about this stuff. Let’s face it. This stuff can be embarrassing for some of us. Take a few moments and get in touch with your thoughts and feelings. Relive your own childhood and adolescence. (Go ahead. Relive. It won’t be that bad.) Sharing about a time when you were going through this stuff can be a powerful way to nurture a lasting bond with your child. Acknowledge any discomfort you may have (maybe you never talked about it with your parents), and explain to your child that you would like him/her to be able to come to you, to ask questions, and to talk.
- Encourage an open environment. Listen. Be patient. Use everyday opportunities to talk . . . wherever, whenever . . . again and again.
- Find a book to “open the doors for discussion” or to revisit the topics introduced in sex ed. Give it to your child, read it to your child, or read it together. And open the doors for discussion . . . again and again.
- And, last but, certainly not least, enjoy the journey. It’s a wonderful ride.
Written by Terri Shearer Trenchard, M.A., Author of Bork Reveals the Real Deal About the Facts of Life and Corky Gives the Whole Scoop About the Facts of Life.
And, in case you’re wondering about more information or have some questions, check out the following resources: