First of all, I need to tell you I’m biased. I believe every parent has a responsibility to talk to their kids about sex. I’m not talking about the “one-shot-birds-and-bees” talk. Parents owe their kids a good solid sex education, enhanced with their own personal values about sex. After all, they are the primary sex educators of their children. This is true both for parents to openly talk to their kids and for those who say nothing. In fact, those who say nothing give very powerful information about sexuality. Their kids learn that sex is dirty, bad, and never to be talked about.
Here are some interesting facts: kids who feel they can talk to their parents about sex are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviors than kids who feel they can’t talk to their parents – but most parents have a tough time talking to their kids about these issues. Research has found that the primary sources of sex information for today’s kids are television, school, and home (in that order). When it comes to boys, there is even less sex talk going on – in fact, adolescent boys receive little or no parental communication about sex. Instead they learn about sex mostly from their peers and the media. It is estimated that 70% of kids (between the ages of 10-17) have seen some form of pornography on the Internet. In addition, as kids enter middle school, parents often cease to be their child’s primary sex educator. Friends begin to take first place.
So, what’s a parent to do? First, they need to encourage communication with kids to assure them they can ask them anything. Starting early is key – hopefully sometime during elementary school at the latest. Parents need to listen to the children’s questions and answer them simply and directly. There are so many “teachable moments” with kids – embrace these moments and have a conversation. Some parents find valuable teaching moments while watching television with their kids – when a scene portraying or discussing sex comes on, instead of telling their children to cover their eyes, they pause the tv and discuss the issues honestly and openly.
If kids can’t go to their parents with questions they often waste time worrying about things they don’t have to worry about. Take my friend’s son – who after a health class about circumcision worried about how much his circumcision was going to hurt. Since he was comfortable talking to his mom, he asked her how much it might hurt. She assured him that he didn’t need to worry since he had been circumcised 12 years earlier. This conversation opened the door to what else was on his mind.
Parents need to be approachable. They need to encourage their children to ask questions and listen carefully when they do. They also need to answer their questions at their children’s level and be careful not to drown them in too much information. Simple answers are best. Talking about sex starts by building a foundation – as a child gets older they are capable of more understanding. Most importantly is that parents let their kids know they can talk to them. If they don’t, the door to these conversations will close and friends will become the primary sex educators. And trust me, this won’t be a good thing.