Sexuality is a normal part of growing up. For most parents and caregivers, though, sex is often an uncomfortable topic to approach with their kids. Many people say “I’d rather not” or “we’ll talk about it later.” Some people fear that talking openly about sex will give the message “you should have sex and lots of it.” That will depend on the messages that you give. You as a parent or caregiver can be a healthy role model for them, and teach them limits and boundaries while recognizing their natural curiosities.
Teaching children about safety and responsibility is very important to their development. Sharing your values with them openly and giving them reasons behind your values can be very meaningful and can influence children to think before they act. Not speaking with children about sex increases the likelihood of them finding out misinformation from their peers or encourages them to practice unsafe sex. Keeping kids “in the dark” about sex can be likened to not teaching them household safety; what they don’t know could hurt them.
Children and adolescents often think they are invincible, that they will not get pregnant or contract any sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) such as HIV, Herpes, or other diseases too numerous to mention. It is important to approach the topic of sexuality, to discuss the pleasures and risks of sex with them. Also, they are heavily influenced by their peers, and want to be accepted. This might cause them to engage in behaviors they otherwise might avoid. “If all my friends are doing it….” As a parent, you have the ability to counteract some of the peer pressure with healthy messages.
The following are a few suggestions you may use to discuss sex openly with children and adolescents:
1. Educate yourself about child and teenage sexual development, and safer sex. You can read materials, attend workshops, or watch videos about how to talk you’re your kids about sex before they become sexually active. (The age for this is as young as 10 or 11 nowadays)
2. Start early. Talk with your children about their bodies, including body functions in a way they can understand based on their age. Avoid shaming them for being curious about sexuality.
3. Discuss your values about sex, and why you chose those values.
4. Talk about possible positive and negative outcomes of sexual behavior.
5. As needed, use some age-appropriate educational books, videos, or pamphlets geared to children and adolescents.
6. Allow your children to ask questions about sex, and be as honest as you can with them. If you don’t know how to respond to a question, it is OK to say that you will find out the answer and tell them later.
7. Talk with children and teens about what to expect from their bodies due to hormonal changes, such as development of breasts, menstruation, masturbation, wet dreams, body hair, genitals, etc. so they are not “freaked out” by these natural changes.
8. Discuss safer sex practices, and unsafe ones. Include information about birth control, risks of various sexual activities such as kissing, petting, and intercourse, as is age appropriate.
9. Take your youngster workshops, sex education classes, or to a clinic so they can have access to information and resources.
10. The best thing that you can do is value your child and adolescent, to encourage them to feel good about their bodies and their minds. A young person’s high self-esteem goes a long way.
If you are too uncomfortable discussing the issues, you can also seek consultation with a therapist that can guide you through. Either way, there is help and resources available.
Whether we like it or not, children and teens are usually curious about sexuality. It is part of growing up. As with other areas of life, it is much better for them to learn the facts from you than to learn myths from someone else. Encourage them to make informed and healthy decisions. Make yourself available to them as a listener and resource in case things to go awry. Try to explain things simply and clearly, without judging them or lecturing. There are no guarantees that they won’t rebel, act irresponsibly, or find themselves in troubling circumstances. These are just some ways to increase their chances of staying safe, protecting them; otherwise, you are leaving them to their own devices, or in the hands of strangers to teach them that which is your right and responsibility as a parent.
Sometimes, you may need additional support or intervention. You might want to access a local agency or find a counselor or coach that can help you and your kids succeed and thrive!