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As parents, “The Talk” is not one we particularly look forward to.
Aside from being a bit uncomfortable (for both parent and child), having a discussion about sex is a pretty big indicator that our baby is growing up.
But providing our kids with facts about sexual development and reproduction is one of the most significant responsibilities we have as caretakers. And experts say the sooner we tackle the task, the better.
WHY TALK IS SO IMPORTANT
Let’s face it. Our kids will eventually learn all about the facts of life. If not from us, they’ll base their knowledge and attitudes about sex on information from peers and the media, with often-serious consequences. A 1999 survey found 25 percent of California ninth graders reported having had sex at least once, a number that has likely escalated over the last decade. And sadly, our state ranks first in the nation for the rate of pregnancies among adolescents.
Studies have found that open communication from parents about sex, relationships and pregnancy increases the likelihood that a teen will postpone sexual relations, and further, will use birth control once they start.
WHEN TO START CONVERSATIONS
There’s no magic age or stage that’s right. Children have different levels of development, maturity and exposure to information from “reliable” sources like older siblings or friends. As a rule, it’s a good idea to capture natural “teachable moments,” such as when your child asks where babies come from, or what an erection is, to talk about basic anatomy and reproduction.
But don’t postpone the more serious chats. With puberty arriving earlier now (in girls as early as age nine), discussions about physical development, bodily functions and sexual situations are needed earlier too. “These days sexual activity in many forms is starting very young,” explains Debra Rodriguez Burns, a marriage and family therapist and school counselor in Granite Bay. “So it’s important for parents to start opening the doors to communication early and let kids feel comfortable in knowing they are a safe person to come to with questions.”
WHAT SCHOOLS ARE TEACHING
While California public schools aren’t required to teach about the birds and the bees, the majority do so, following state guidelines for sexual health education.
In short, material must be age appropriate, medically accurate and objective, and appropriate for all students. Content also must promote respect for marriage and committed relationships, and encourage communication with parents or guardians.
Additionally, since 1992, California middle and high schools have been mandated to teach about HIV/AIDS prevention, including the nature and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the role of abstinence and the effectiveness of other contraceptive methods.
Parents are encouraged to use these sensitive school discussions as another opportunity to continue dialogue with their kids in the comfort of home.
TIPS FOR “THE TALK”
It’s great to use resources such as age-appropriate books or diagrams to help illustrate your points, but rely on face-to-face time, where questions are encouraged, for the bulk of your conversations. Other recommendations include:
- Start early and take the lead.
- Begin with an anatomy lesson.
- Have ongoing conversations, not one big talk.
- Find the right times and places.
- Let children ask questions and give examples.
- Don’t judge or use scare tactics.
- Be scientifically factual, but share personal values and beliefs.
It Wasn’t the Stork by Robie H. Harris
The Sex Ed Handbook by Dr. Laura Berman, (download on oprah.com)
Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids To Know About Sex (but were afraid they’d ask) by Drs. Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster
My Body, My Self by Lynda and Area Madaras
What’s the Big Secret? by Laurie Krasny Brown