One of the most frequent questions I get as a parent educator is, "So what age do I need to start talking about this stuff?" I can feel the sense of hope for an answer something like "Oh, you are YEARS away from ever needing to talk sex with your kids. I mean really -- it might not ever even need to come up!!" Haha! I can feel the air being sucked out of the room with my actual reply, "This conversation needs to start no later than age 8!"
I understand that this is scary, but here's the thing, your 8+ year old kid is in the real world now. They are spending time at a friend’s house, they are away all day at school, they are in sports programs and community groups. You are not the only source of information anymore (and that can be even more scary!). So how do you stay the main source of information in the sea of opinions and jokes and media influence? Plain and simple: you start talking first.
Need another reason to talk sex early and often? Porn. Yep, that's right, I said porn. Tragically, the average age of exposure of porn is, eight. Kids are being exposed quite innocently and accidentally to porn at young ages. Whether it's those super helpful '"suggested" search's on the internet, a friend's parent's/older sibling's secret collection so easily accidentally found during a game of hide-and-seek, or it's a spam message that pops up, your kids need to know that they will see "naked people" on accident! It's ok and they are not in trouble! They should just tell mom and dad right away so they can make sure they protect their heart by trying to help keep that from happening again.
My nine year-old son has found porn twice on accident already. We talked to him about the possibility months before; he knew what it was and he told me right away. Yes, I have his iPad on lock down with every parental control. It doesn't matter! For the last incident a few months ago, it was a suggested search in his app store, "hot naked girls,” he was curious, so he clicked it. Even though he didn't have the password to download any apps, he was free to scroll through all the photos of apps for sale. Nice. From what I've researched on porn - it's not the accidental exposure that can be damaging - it's when they keep their discovery a secret and start searching it out and getting hooked.
So what's our hesitation? I know, talking about sex can be uncomfortable and there's this sense of scarring or damaging our innocent children's minds. The fear is, once they know about sex, they've lost their innocence. But guess what?? Your kids are sexual beings. They were designed to have great sex one day - and isn't that what we want for them? The honest truth is that, when presented in a safe, healthy way, kids are not scarred or damaged - they are empowered. Another truth is, someone's going to tell them about it - you want it to be you.
Ok I've convinced you! Now where do we begin? Here's what I suggest:
Here's some more details:
- Get a book you are comfortable with (I like "Amazing You! Getting Smart about Your Private Parts" by Gail Saltz and Lynne Avril Cravath). Find a good time of the day when you have no distractions and invite your kids to have a seat to read together.
- Read the book with your kids and let them react how they want. They may get shy and quiet, they may have some hilarious comments. Just listen, stay calm, answer any questions according to their ability to understand the answers.
- Don't explain ahead unless they ask - for example - Amazing You! talks about body parts and mentions sperm and eggs, it doesn't explain how the sperm gets to the egg exactly. Stick to the book and wait for the follow up questions. If they ask, "Well, how does the sperm and egg get together?" - that's your cue to explain further. It took me three times reading the book to my son before he asked the next question.
- Bring up the topic whenever it seems fitting. When kids are talking about "who likes who", when you see a scenario on TV, or when the conversation goes down a similar path, bring up the topic and ask if your kids have any questions or anything they want to talk about. Do we remind our kids to do their homework because we care about their education? Do we give them chores because we want to teach them responsibility? Yes. Let's also talk about relationships and sex - this is another way to build their healthy future.
When your child hears the word "SEX" from you, you are establishing yourself as the source for all information sex. Make this statement every now and again:
Encourage your kids to come to you if the topic comes up at a friend's house, on the bus, at recess, etc. Let them know that a lot of kids like to pretend that they know about sex, but they don't always have the right answers.
You got this! I'm here for you - let me know if you have any questions :)