We don’t want to think about it, that day when our children become interested in sex. But undoubtedly, it will happen and probably much earlier than you are ready for it to happen. Teens today know more about sex than we did at their age. The subject is out in the open, you see it on television, in the movies, in advertising, every day all day. And sex can be dangerous for unprepared, unknowing teens. Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), unplanned pregnancies and HIV/AIDs are all out there. The more your teen knows, the better he or she can stay protected and safe.
The choice is not whether to talk to your child about sex, the choice is when to start. The following are tips to help you begin and continue your discussions with your child:
Start Early. This doesn’t mean you need to explain the birds and the bees when your child is still a toddler, but it does mean that you want to talk with “real” words from the time your child is young. This helps them to feel comfortable with their bodies and with discussing their bodies. As they grow, this comfortableness will help you and your child initiate conversations.
Create an open environment. If you try to avoid questions about sex, sexuality and your body, your child will shy away from asking your questions and will go to other sources, many of them unreliable and unknowledgeable. Instead, listen to their concerns and questions and answer honestly, filtering information only to make it appropriate for your child’s age.
Talk about appropriate behaviors. Begin when your children are young, teaching “good touch-bad touch” and discussing what they should do if someone touches them inappropriately, even if that person is someone your child knows or trusts. Your child should grow up knowing that their body is their own and others are not allowed to touch them in certain ways.
Teach and model respect. If you treat your children, your spouse and people around you with respect, and they treat you with respect, your child will learn to expect respect from others. When there are times you are not treated with respect, discuss what happened and give examples of what actions you can take when situations like this happen.
Use books as tools to learning. There are many books available for both boys and girls that will help teach the specifics of puberty and what to expect. For children that like to read, they may want to read the books first by themselves. You can then go over the different topics to help answer questions. For children that don’t like to read, it may be necessary to go over the book together.
Continue talking about sex and relationships. If you have started early, once your child reaches the teen years, you should be at least somewhat comfortable with discussions about sex but that doesn’t mean your conversations should end. Your child is still learning about romantic and sexual relationships. While you have had years of practice, this is all new to him or her. Talk about the importance of love and mutual respect and the role that love plays in a sexual relationship.
Help your child be prepared. Talk about protection, for both boys and girls, against STDs and make sure your child understands the realities rather than believing the myths. Explain that protection must be used every time. Take your daughter to the doctor to discuss different birth control methods and explain the limitations and benefits of each method. Make sure your children know that many birth control methods can prevent unwanted pregnancy but don’t protect against STDs. Explain the importance of using condoms in addition to any other birth control method.
Don’t judge. You want your children to feel safe coming to you with questions and for advice. Even when they make mistakes, keep your judgments to yourself and show your child love and support. Remember that your children, just like you, will make mistakes and wrong choices. Before criticizing, think back to what you felt like and give your child a hug and a reason to continue coming to you whenever they have questions or concerns.
“Talking to Kids About Sex,” Date Unknown, Editorial Staff, Parenting Magazine
“Tips for Talking to Your Daughter About Sex,” 2006, May 11, Roni Cohen-Sandler, Dr. Christine Northrup, MSNBC Today
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.