All parents know there is going to come a time in their child’s life when it’s time for… “the talks.” You know the ones. The talks about bodies and puberty and awkward changes and sex and babies and boys and girls and gender and sexuality, etc, etc. Can’t wait for this one right? Ever find yourself waiting for the perfect time for this talk to happen? The perfect time might look a little something like this in our parental minds…Our child asks us to come to his or her room to talk about something they heard, no one else is around to disturb the conversation, and our child is a willing and excited participant in our explanations and is asking all of the questions. Parents, I can almost guarantee you this is NEVER going to happen, despite how much we might want it to look something like this. So, what really happens? We may have the best intentions to be the parents our children come to with their questions, we may even think we can handle these conversations when they come. Overall, we find ourselves waiting and waiting and waiting. Waiting for the perfect moment, the leading question, the interest, for what? The waiting game continues until we realize that it’s probably too late because our kids have already heard about most of this information from their friends, and that perfect teaching moment never actually happened despite our best intentions to make it happen. And by then, it’s too late. By then, it will be filled with “I know’s” and a whole lot of eye rolling and sighing and even possibly physical teenage pain.
We put SO much pressure on ourselves today to be “perfect” parents. We try not to make the same mistakes our parents made, we try to be our child’s friend, we want to get along, we want to be the parent our children turn to when they have questions or concerns. This all falls under an umbrella of parental anxiety or parental guilt. We have a need to feel that we are parenting perfectly and that every decision should be right the first time and we can’t possibly change our minds or give a better answer. According to an article in the New York Post, the top five qualities that people think makes a ‘good’ parent include:
1. Being present for my kids
2. Being a good listener and giving good advice
3. Being available to help with daily homework
4. Attending all or most of my children’s academic, social, and extracurricular activities
5. Being able to take my children on vacation
Notice number 2. How can we be a good listener and give good advice if we can’t get our kids to come to us when they have questions, and not their friends or the internet? When it comes to kids’ questions and giving information about sex and reproduction, there seem to be 3 common misconceptions parents have with regards to having these conversations.
Misconception #1 - The ‘sex talk’ can happen in one conversation.
For many parents, this belief comes from the anxiety associated with having this talk even once and/or also the fact that it is such a dreaded conversation to think about having, that many parents think they can tackle it with a “one and done” approach. There are many reasons that this subject should be covered in several talks and not just one. First off, it is an awkward subject to talk about for both parents and kids. We probably aren’t going to get it just right the first go-round. It is important to have several small conversations that include reinforcement of previous facts as well as introducing new information without being overwhelming. Second, there is WAY too much information that needs to be discussed that kids can’t take it all in in one conversation. When I first started talking to my oldest about sex, my nerves made me vomit all the information I wanted her to absorb very quickly and before I knew it, there was a glazed over look in her eyes and her brain was totally overwhelmed. Not only are their attention spans not mature enough to absorb the amount of information they need, they will also forget as they get older and receive more information. Tackling these talks in smaller, more frequent conversations helps kids to retain more information and be able to process it enough to come back to ask questions once they’ve digested the information they receive.
Misconception #2 - Younger kids can’t handle all the topics.
To a certain degree, yes, younger kids don’t need ALL of the information that older kids need. Information should be given to kids at an age-appropriate level at a time when the information is relevant. One of my biggest frustrations as an educator is that many parents think their younger kids can’t handle even basic information about what they consider a more “grown-up topic” such as sex. I hear from parents all the time that they aren’t ready for their kids to hear about sex because they don’t want to take away their child’s innocence just yet. This one is important parents…giving a child facts about sex and reproduction does not rob a child of their innocence. Retaining innocence has nothing to do at all with information, it has to do with HOW the information is being presented. The reality is this…the younger the child learns about these topics, I find the less gross factor there is. I have taught kids younger than 10 and also older than 10. There is a significant change that happens somewhere between 9-11 that suddenly takes this topic from being one of informational facts, to something gross that parents have done. Getting to them younger actually helps kids to see this as a factual concept and not just one to be grossed out by because now they can picture their parents “doing it.” A school-aged child who learns about sex and reproduction as a loving act that can also create a life, retains their innocence. Whereas a child who learns very little about these topics, may learn about it from a source that portrays it in an unsafe, degrading, unimportant, or abusive context. Little kids can handle big topics if presented to them in an age-appropriate manner. Remember, we all came from a generation where it was inappropriate to talk to kids about ‘adult’ concepts such as money, death, and babies. Kids weren’t privvy to conversations about money because it wasn’t appropriate. When someone died, they “went to a better place.” Most of us were taught that babies came from a cabbage patch or were dropped off by a stork. The reality is, we didn’t get the credit we deserved to handle bigger conversations and today hopefully, we can change that.
Misconception #3 - Talking to our kids about sex gives kids the impression that parents are giving them permission to have sex.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. This is just wrong. Acknowledging sex or sexuality is NOT the same as condoning it or giving kids permission to have it. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Google this for me and you will see pages and pages of information that say that kids whose parents discuss ALL aspects of sex, sexuality, and reproduction, actually DELAY becoming sexually active over their peers whose parents did not have these discussions. There is a delay in sexual debut (meaning the age of first sex), kids are more likely to use protection, and there is a decrease in teen pregnancy and abortion rates, as well as a decrease in sexually transmitted infections. There is a huge difference between giving information in a productive way that is honest about the fact that these conversations are important to have. Not because you think they should, currently are, or will soon have sex, but because SOMEDAY they will become sexual beings and because of that, it is important that they have essential information to do it responsibly and enjoy it with a loving partner.
Need help with any of these talks? That’s what I’m here for. Joining classes with The Rites of Passage provides parents and kids with a safe and comfortable place to get all of this essential information together. All classes are designed to open the lines of communication regarding the changes associated with puberty and sexuality. Classes are interactive and fun and by bringing parents and children together to learn, it takes the guesswork out of what information children learned about outside of the house. Kids are provided a safe place to ask questions, receive factual information, and parents are given opportunities to share their own personal experiences of growing up which helps to encourage open communication between parent and child. I’m here to help you have these talks in a fun and productive way that allows parents the opportunity to share the beliefs and values that are essential to your family, with your own child, in the many conversations that take place even after our classes are over.