Your family may take a road trip this summer. Maybe you’re heading to the beach, to relatives’, or to a campground. You’ll have the kids in the car for a block of time, so maybe you’re thinking about plunging into a talk about sex while there are fewer distractions than usual.
It’s probably better if you don’t. A car can be a great place to address sexual topics—but it can also be awful.
On the plus side, one advantage of talking about awkward topics while driving is that your child doesn’t have to make eye contact. You’re side by side, not face to face, and somehow that makes it easier.
On the minus side, talking about the birds and the bees during a long car ride makes kids feel trapped. If you’ve got hours on your hands, you may say far more than kids can absorb in one sitting. If they’re overwhelmed, there’s no way to escape. It’s even worse if they finally get out of the awkwardness of a car sex-ed talk…only to be greeted by Grandma and a swarm of aunts and uncles. Embarrassment + no escape + no time to process = not a good way to start a vacation.
But that doesn’t mean you should never talk about sexuality in the car. Here’s how to use time behind the wheel in ways that won’t make your kids hate you:
Choose times when your child won’t feel trapped. Short drives are much better than long ones. If you’d like to raise a sexual topic, do it when you and your child are running errands around town rather than when you’re off on a trip.
Be mindful of who else is listening. In some families, kids are so close in age and temperament that you can talk about puberty, sex, etc., with more than one child at once. Often, though, kids prefer one-on-one, where their embarrassment isn’t compounded by wondering what others are thinking or fear of being teased by a sibling. If it’s just the two of you in the car, go for it. Otherwise, pick another time.
Cover small chunks of information. It’s a mistake to make The Talk one big event (in a car or anywhere else). Sexuality is a hugely complex subject; there’s far too much to cover in one sitting. But drive time works well for smaller pieces of information: “You know, there’s one thing I’ve been meaning to mention…” or “I heard something recently about _____ and just wanted to make sure I’d covered that with you….”
Make sure your child will have time alone to process. Because information about bodies and sex tends to be emotionally charged, most kids will want a chance to get their heads around it. So begin sex-related convos on the way home rather than on your way to somewhere. Say what you need to say; allow time for your child to ask questions if she likes; then let her go chill in her room or do whatever helps her take it in.
To teach your kids all about bodies, puberty, and sexuality, you’ll need many conversations over many years. Drive time can be a great opportunity for these talks—just not on a long road trip.