The thought of having "the talk" with your child is enough to make even the most hip parent cringe. However, the days of being able to depend on the school's health teacher to provide a comprehensive overview of anatomy and sex education are over. Teaching kids respect for sexuality can seem like an uphill battle in today's world because, for the first time ever, kids have access to tons of information in the palm of their hand. And of course, much of the information they have access to isn't accurate and isn't healthy. As a result, it's more important than ever to focus on teaching kids respect for sexuality.
Importance of Talking About Sex
Kids are bombarded with media images about sexuality, and very few of them convey respect for sexuality. "In American culture today we have two common extremes: the anything-goes media and the parents who are so overwhelmed and fearful they don't say anything to their kids," says Torie Henderson, a life coach who conducts workshops that teach parents how to talk to kids about sex in Walnut Creek, California. Teaching kids respect for sexuality can help them be more understanding of others, can help them to have healthier relationships, and it can prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.
Instead of trying to have "the talk" when your child turns 13, experts recommend teaching kids about sexuality throughout their child's life. Kris Gowen, a Portland, Oregon-based psychologist and author of "Sexual Decisions: The Ultimate Teen Guide," states, "So many times parents try to talk about sexuality with their kids, and barely know what their own values and beliefs are." She recommends that parents spend time reflecting on the reasons for their beliefs and attitude about sexuality. Having a better understanding can make it more comfortable to have conversations about sex and answer any questions kids might have along the way.
Teaching Toddlers About Sexuality
As toddlers begin toilet training, it's the perfect time to begin teaching them about sexuality, privacy and boundaries. Teach toddlers the anatomically correct names for body parts and give them messages that their private parts aren't shameful or dirty. "Tell children to respect their bodies by keeping them clean and healthy. This will start to translate into respecting their bodies and the bodies of others," suggests Gowen. Also begin talking to kids about privacy and boundaries. For example, teach toddlers not to open the bathroom door when it's shut.
Preschoolers often need a lot of reminders about privacy and boundaries. They are usually curious about the differences between boys and girls and may begin to ask questions such as "Where do babies come from?" Resist the urge to tell them babies are delivered by a stork and give them simple yet honest answers to their questions. Teach them the difference between safe touches and unsafe touches and give them information about what to do if someone tries to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. A good way to show them they have the right to decide who touches their body is by giving them choices. Instead of saying, "Go give your uncle a kiss goodbye," ask them, "Do you want to give your uncle a hug goodbye?" and give the option to decline.
Teaching Grade-School Kids About Sexuality
Grade-school kids haven't yet perfected their social skills and as a result, they often need a lot of help in their relationships with peers. Kindergarten through fourth grade provides parents with the perfect opportunity to teach kids how to talk kindly to peers, resolve conflict, deal with disappointment and handle rejection. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Sex education for children does not center on the act of sex, but rather includes the broader concept of sexuality—the physical, emotional, and social aspects of being a boy or girl, man or woman in our culture, and the roles and relationships that are part of being male or female."
As kids approach puberty, provide them with facts about their changing bodies and give them more information about sex. Junior-high-school kids should be made aware of the risks of sexual activity. Also, give them information about the dangers of the Internet. Talk to kids about social media and the dangers of posting or sending sexual pictures to one another.
Teaching Teenagers About Sexuality
Many teenagers begin their first serious relationships and it is essential that they have the skills they need to have a healthy romantic relationship. Regardless of whether you want to encourage abstinence or not, teens need education about sexuality. Share your beliefs and invite them to talk to you about their feelings and questions. Teens often need help ensuring a relationship is healthy and they may not recognize warning signs that a relationship is not healthy. "For older children," says Gowen, "let them know that violence is never a way to show care and affection."