There’s no longer the one big talk when communicating about sexuality with children.
The one-time birds and the bees discussion is a thing of the past. Research indicates that parents who talk to their children at younger ages about sexuality de-stigmatize the topic and have more influence over children’s sexual behavior as they get older.
Here are 6 strategies to help parents talk about sexuality with their children:
1. Start young. Parents can talk with children ages 3 to 5 by naming the body parts with proper names and segue into how adults have babies together. It’s also appropriate to talk about “private areas” as sexual areas that nobody else should touch and educating kids that it’s a violation if anyone does touch private areas and that parents need to be told immediately. When children get a little older parents can talk about masturbation and how it’s okay to touch sexual organs for pleasure if done in private. As children enter elementary school, parents can talk about menstruation what it means to be gay versus straight and bisexual.
2. Talk about sexuality in everyday life. Our media is overflowing with sexuality and parents can use movies, television and magazines as a springboard for educating children and teens about sexually related topics such as dating, pregnancy, and puberty. When discussing sexuality in a context outside of themselves children are more likely to ask questions because it’s not about their own lives or people they know. Parents should engage their children in a discussion and have their full attention; talking while playing video games doesn’t count.
3. Parents need to open and honest about sexuality. It’s important for parents to be authentic and accurate and convey values regarding sexuality. Children should know that ultimately they are going to have to make responsible choices about sexuality. Today’s teens report that parents are the biggest influence in their lives regarding decisions about sex. Teens who report having fewer conversations about sex with their parents are more likely to be sexually promiscuous than teens who are open with their parents about sex. Open communication allows a forum for discussion around partners, condoms, contraceptives and when to have sexual activity. With open communication parents can help teenagers understand and manage a variety of topics that are associated with sexuality including pregnancy, STDs and having sex with friends versus having sex in relationships. Current research indicates the teens are more sexually active than parents think. By the time teens are 19 years old, 7 out of 10 teens have had sex. 2,000 teens get pregnant in the Unites States every day.
4. Parents need to be comfortable with their own sexuality. If parents have histories of sexual abuse or unresolved sexual conflicts it’s going to make discussing sexuality more difficult for parents. The more parents talk about sex the easier it is to have an ongoing open communication. Parents should be aware of their own embarrassment and how it impacts open communication with their children. Parents can vocalize to children that it’s awkward and uncomfortable to talk about sex and they can also say that it’s important and that they’re going to do it anyway.
5. Parents can learn by listening to what their children have to say. The more parents can hear their children’s thoughts, the more they’re going to be able to guide them appropriately regarding sex. With sexual discussions, non-judgmental reflective listening is key. For example statements like “I understand how you’re feeling or so you’re feeling like…” help foster open communication and allow questioning children to feel safe exploring their sexuality their parents. Parents should be aware that children might disguise their questions with other questions. No matter how difficult the questions are parents always need to be honest and factual. If they don’t know the answers, they can get the information and bring it back to children at a later time.
6. Always get clarification for understanding. When discussing sexuality with children, parents should not assume children understand what parents are trying to communicate. Parents can ask kids to repeat back what they think they’ve heard. If parents are unclear about what is being asked, they too should get further clarification from their children. Children might be intentionally evasive due to embarrassment. Parents should encourage children to be as direct as possible. Parents should avoid responding with too much information and answer without lecturing to keep an active dialogue going and children thoroughly engaged.