October is National Family Sexuality Education Month: the topic that makes many parents turn red and run the other way. Research clearly shows parents are the ones with whom children and teens most want to discuss this topic, so here are some age-by-age tips for you to get started:
Infancy: Keep your child safe by making sure any adults or teens that care for him or her are trusted and reliable.
Toddlerhood: As your child begins to learn the names for body parts, include anatomically accurate language for genitalia. Use the words penis, vulva, testicles, and anus. If you say them nonchalantly, you are teaching your child these are natural parts of his or her body that he or she does not need to be ashamed of.
Preschool: Continue with anatomically correct language. Many parents confront “Where to babies come from?” at this age. Answer with simple answers (“from a mommy and a daddy”) and gauge if this has satisfied your child’s curiosity. If not, and they ask another question, you can continue to answer. Strive not to over-answer or give too many details, while still being honest and giving facts. For books that can help, check out: http://astore.amazon.com/dilijoy-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=4
Elementary School: This is a time to gradually give more information and continue answering questions, as well as asking some as they reach older elementary grades (Ex: Have you heard the term “That’s so gay”? Do you know what that means?). Be sure to explain puberty before it happens. Children can go through puberty anywhere from age 9 to 17, so make sure they are prepared and not surprised by changes happening in their bodies. Here are some resources about this stage: http://astore.amazon.com/dilijoy-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=6. Also, remember to hit up the big subjects before your child enters middle school. Things like masturbation, oral sex, pregnancy, STDs, and same-sex relationships are all hot topics in our schools, and mostly rife with misinformation. This is your opportunity to be the trusted adult with accurate information for your child, in addition to expressing your values and beliefs.
Middle School: Periodically check in with your child about what they’ve been hearing at school. Remember that just because they have questions about behaviors does not mean they are engaging in them. Find out what your school is teaching about sexual health and supplement as needed at home or through community or faith community programs. Monitor television and computer use, and consider software that lets you keep an eye on text messaging and other electronic devices so you can step in if needed.
High School: Continue to be an open resource for your child. Strive to listen and remain a person they can come to with questions and concerns. Even if he or she rolls his or her eyes at you, remember that research shows that teens who talk to their parents are the biggest influence on them and that their parents are the ones they most want to discuss sex, love, and relationships with. For more resources about talking to your teen, check out The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Take a deep breath, parents, and ante up! It’s never too late to start talking, and October is a great time to start.
© Amy Johnson, 2010