WHY DO CHILDREN NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SEXUALITY?
The former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher has called upon parents to teach their children about sex. According to Dr. Satcher, understanding sexuality helps kids cope with their feelings and with peer pressure. It enables them to take charge of their lives and have loving relationships. It also helps protect them from sexual abuse, and goes a long way to preventing teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases -- (now at an all-time high among teens) and sexual violence. Kids learn about their sexuality from the day they are born. Home can be the most meaningful place to learn about it. We can help our kids feel good about their sexuality from the very beginning. Then they will trust us enough to ask questions about sex later on in life.
WHAT TO TELL YOUR KIDS
Ages Three to Five
Toddlers have a healthy curiosity about sex. Start by teaching them the correct names for body parts. Be matter of fact -- as though you were talking about elbows, knees or ankles.
At this age, kids develop an interest in their bodies, so it's a good time to explain the differences between boys and girls. It's normal for kids to occasionally expose their bodies to one another. Keep your response low key, but let your child know that some areas of the body are private. Use this as an opportunity to explain about inappropriate touching.
Three-year-olds also want to know "Where babies come from?" Most toddlers are satisfied with the basics: "Babies grow in a special place inside the mother." As the child is able to process more information, you can add more detail.
Ages Five to Seven
By this time, kids have developed a circle of friends and aren't as attached to parents and caregivers. They're becoming aware of their own gender identities and can be downright biased when it comes to the opposite sex. If your kid goes through the "I Hate Boys" or "Girls Have Cooties" stage, don't tease them about it. It won't last.
This is the age when kids really begin processing outside information. By the time they start kindergarten, many kids have already heard of child abuse, rape and HIV, and they know the street terms for most sexual acts. If your child happens to hear a sexually explicit term on television, explain that even though some people find those terms funny, sex is part of a loving relationship between grown ups.
PRETEENS Ages Eight to Twelve
At this point, kids need to know the facts about menstruation, masturbation, wet dreams and other signs of maturing.
Preteens want to fit in. They want to be exactly like everyone else. Boys worry about penis size; girls worry about breast size. Let them know that everyone is different and develops differently.
It's not unusual for preteens to look at or touch each other's sexual organs. Don't read too much into it. It's one way they learn that they're normal and is not an indication of sexual preference. Remind the child that this kind of touching isn't acceptable, but provide assurance that you understand his or her curiosity and there's nothing wrong with it.
Most 12-year-olds are already up to speed about sex and reproduction. They need to find out about sexual responsibility, sexually transmitted diseases, birth control and the consequences of teen pregnancy.
This is where the going gets tough. Teens are very sexually sophisticated. Movies, TV, music have all given them a somewhat one-sided sexual education. By age 16, most teens have experienced some level of sexual activity. What they need to learn is responsibility, how to say "no," how to have relationships without sex, how to deal with peer pressure.
Teens need to be reassured that their sexuality and feelings are normal. Sometimes this means accepting a child who believes he or she may be gay. Punishing a child won't change his or her sexual orientation, it will just create needless anguish on all sides.
Talk to your teens frankly, but non-judgmentally. Give them the facts about sexually transmitted diseases, the financial and emotional consequences of pregnancy, explain about safe sex and birth control. Help them decide what their own sexual limits should be and how to establish those limits with their peers.
Straight talk about sex isn't going to make teenagers more or less sexually active. Threats will only create hard feelings on all sides. Present the facts, promise them your support, and let them know they can trust you.
TIPS FOR PARENTS
First, set good examples that show kids how our lives are enriched by our values.
Reassure them that they're normal. Build their self-esteem. Instead of criticism, offer constructive advice.
Always use correct names for sex organs and sexual behaviors and answer your child's questions honestly, without evasions.
Don't be afraid to tackle the tough topics such as sexual abuse, sexual orientation.
Take advantage of opportunities -- even an off-color remark on a TV show can help start dialogue with you and your child.
Keep it age appropriate. A toddler doesn't need to know about spermatozoa and zygotes.
Be clear about your own values so your kids will always have strong guideposts to follow.
Don't use scare tactics as a way to stop young people from having sex -it is not a method that works.
When you don't have an answer, say so, then tell your child you'll help him or her find the information.
Accept questions at face value. For example, "How old do you have to be to have sex?" doesn't necessarily mean, "I'm thinking about having sex."
Stay in touch with the world your kid lives in -- what's happening today may be different from when you were that age. Read their magazines, watch their TV shows, listen to their music.
If you need more help, or if you're still having trouble talking to your kids, find out if your church, temple or mosque offers family life education. Ask your pediatrician for help, turn to the internet or head to the local library.
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