Let’s face it: Talking with your kids about sexuality can be awkward. So it’s natural to want to put it off a bit, because, you know, they’re still young, and maybe they’re not mature enough to understand, and I want to keep them innocent, and the school will cover it soon enough, and my parents never told me about sex and I turned out OK, and….
Really, though, aren’t those just excuses? The truth is that we just want to avoid what’s uncomfortable for us. So when parents ask me if they can wait to start the conversation, I say No. Well, you don’t have to do it now, but there are good reasons why you might not want to wait.
If your kids are 10 to 12, please do not wait to educate them about the biology of sex and puberty. Begin conversations about values and choices. Help them to start making sense of what they see in the media and hear on the school bus. Starting talking now, before they develop other sources of information (which may or may not be reliable)–and turn into teens who decide that you don’t know anything.
It’s very helpful to provide information about puberty and sexuality before the school has its sex-ed program. Many of the young adults I surveyed commented that they were really glad the information wasn’t completely new to them. (Others were mortified that lots of people already knew things when they were clueless.) Also be sure to follow up after the school program; kids often have more questions, so it’s a golden opportunity.
If your kids are under 6, you could wait—but I suggest you don’t. It’s much easier to tell a 5-year-old about sex than a 12-year-old. 12-year-olds react with “No, Mom, ick, don’t!”—they know sex is a loaded topic. But 5-year-olds just say “Really?” or “Gross!” and then usually move on to something else. The biology of sex is often as neutral to them as any other fact about how the world works. As a bonus to parents, sometimes their reactions can be really funny.
If your kids are 7 to 9, you’re in a sweet spot. They’re more aware of the world, but they still think of their parents as valuable sources of information. (This will probably stop when they become teens.) Kids this age are aware, at least vaguely, that puberty is coming, and they’re likely wondering what that means for them. Some kids in this age bracket may have crushes or other confusing feelings. Start having conversations now, and you’ll demonstrate that you’re an open and reliable source of information.
Please trust me on this: It really is easier the sooner you start. Once you’ve broken the ice, you’ll be so relieved to have the hard part out of the way—and to have opened up an important conversation with your kid.