In the words of Salt-N-Pepa: “Let’s Talk About Sex”
Talks about relationships and sexuality are a series of revolving conversations. It really starts the first time a child says, “Where do babies come from?” It is inevitable. By the time your child hits the teenage years he/she has been exposed to countless songs, images, magazines, t.v. shows, and movies that display varying messages about sexuality. On top of that, they have heard peers and other people share their knowledge and ideas around sex and relationships. This can spike a lot of fear and uncertainty in parents. Why? Because parents have their own values, experiences, and hopes for their child. And, many parents do not know what, when, or how to talk about sex with their child.
Consider this….you are the closest and most reliable source of information to teach your child about sex and relationships.
If you have the conversations, you can be sure that your teen is getting accurate information. Remember that like any other developmental issue, your teens interests and understanding of sex and relationships changes as he/she changes. For this reason, it is important to have ongoing dialogue so that you can be sure to match where your teen is in the conversation.
Picture an 8 year old boy. During a homeschooling lesson on the life cycle of the frog, the boy says, “Mom, how is the life cycle of a frog different than the life cycle of a person? I understand that the male sperm fertilizes the female egg to make a baby. What I don’t understand is how the male sperm gets to the female egg. I mean, they are in two different bodies.” At that moment, the mom decides to stop talking about the life cycle of the frog! In fact, she decides to take a break from school altogether. Instead she says, “Why don’t we go upstairs and make the bed so that we can talk about this.” The mother decides to give him the basic facts using all the right terminology. In between shaking out the sheets and tucking them into the corners, she bluntly tells him the basic mechanics of sex in about two-three sentences. Then she asks, “Does that make sense? Do you have any questions?” He looks at her a little bit shell-shocked and says, “No…not right now.” The mom decides to spend the rest of their time together talking about their family values, and the emotional and moral aspects of sexuality. She talks about what a relationship is and why people enter into relationships. Then, she invites him to talk to her anytime he wants. This boy is almost 18 years old now, and he and his mother have had countless conversations about girls, relationships and sex. Most of the time she feels completely honored to be a trusted adult he can talk to.
Of course, not all teens are as curious or open to talking about sex with their parents. Consider this scenario:
A mother is driving her 12 year old daughter to soccer practice when a commercial about teenage pregnancy comes on the radio. She realizes that her and her daughter have never had “the talk”! So, she turns the radio down a little and says, “Do you know what they are talking about?” Her daughter responds with, “Yes, sex and what happens when you have sex.” The mother says, “Do you know what sex is?” The daughter proceeds to spell it out with amazing composure and accuracy. In this case, the mother also used this opportunity to clear up any misunderstanding, talk about family values, and extend the offer to be a source of information whenever her daughter needed to talk. This mother may have to be more more assertive and intentional in starting additional conversations with her daughter.
As you can see by these conversations, each “talk” can be a completely different beast. In many ways, this depends on factors like your child’s personality, developmental stage, maturity, and the ease to which you and your child communicate. Below are some things to consider when having “the talk”:
- Consider that it is common for children to be curious about sex and sexuality as early as about eight years old. The key is to make sure that the information you share is developmentally appropriate and can be easily understood by your child. Children will ask more questions if they need more information.
- Match your teen’s personality when talking about sex, sexuality, and relationships. Some children respond well to humor. Others want the short and sweet conversation. Still others want reading material.
- Be sensitive to the embarrassing or uncomfortable nature of this topic. Do what you can to lighten things up a bit.
- Regardless of whether or not your child prefers to read about it, have books and other information available. Teens can be embarrassed to ask adults questions. Since you want them getting accurate information, reading material can be a good supplement. Plus, this gives them the option to access information privately and on their own time.
- Let your teen know that not everything they hear from peers and the media is accurate. Dispelling inaccuracies is as important as providing the facts.
- Pay attention to your teens development and continue to be available. You can build a sense of trust and closeness with your teen when you are an understanding and reliable source of information.