Adolescents in middle school (How to discuss sex)
•Studies show that kids who feel they can talk with their parentsabout sex –because their moms and dads speak openly and listen carefully to them –are less likely to engage in high-risk behavior as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject. So explore your feelings about sex. If you are very uncomfortable with the subject, read some books and discuss yourfeelings with a trusted friend, relative, physician, or clergy member. The more you examine the subject, the more confident you’ll feeldiscussing it.
•Even if you can’t quite overcome your discomfort, don’t worry about admitting it to your kids. It’s okay to say something like, “Youknow, I’m uncomfortable talking about sex because my parents never talked with me about it. But I want us to be able to talk about anything –including sex –so please come to me if you have any questions. And if I don’t know the answer, I’ll find out.”
•Teaching your children about sex demands a gentle, continuous flow of information that should begin as early as possible –for instance, when teaching your toddler where his nose and toes are, include “this is your penis” or “this is your vagina” in your talks. As your child grows, you can continue her education by adding more materials gradually until she understands the subject well.
Talk about more than the “Birds and the Bees“
•While our children need to know the biological facts about sex, they also need to understand that sexual relationships involve caring, concern and responsibility. By discussing the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship with your child, she will be better informed to make decisions later on and to resist peer pressure. If your child is a pre-teen, you need to include some message about the responsibilities and consequences of sexual activity. Conversations with 11 and 12-year-olds, for example, should include talks about unwanted pregnancy and how they can protect themselves.
Give accurate, age-appropriate information
•Talk about sex in a way that fits the age and stage of your child. If your 8-year-old asks why boys and girls change so much physically as they grow, you can say something like, “The body has special chemicals called hormones that tell it whether to become a boy or a girl. A boy has a penis and testicles, and when he grows older his voice gets lower and he gets more hair on his body. A girl has a vulva and vagina, and when she gets older she grows breasts and her hips grow rounder.”
Talk with your child of the opposite sex
•Some parents feel uncomfortable talking with their child about topics like sex if the youngster is of the opposite gender. While that’s certainly understandable, don’t let it become an excuse to close off conversation.
•Don’t worry about knowing all the answers to your children’s questions; what you know is a lot less important than how you respond. If you can convey the message that no subject, including sex, is forbidden in your home, you’ll be doing just fine.
On Wednesday, I’ll provide some final quick parenting tips.
Commentary by ACS Executive Director, Dr. Philippe Rey