You likely remember “the talk” with your mom or dad. You were probably somewhere between 12 and 14, and it was surely incredibly awkward, or so you felt. The sex talk is often dreaded and almost always undervalued. Many parents wonder what an age-appropriate sex talk looks like today.
While there is no way to make this talk an easy one, we do have some tips to make it go smoother. We have broken down by age when and what you should be talking about. We also have a list of do’s and don’ts to help along the way.
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Age Appropriate Sex Talk Guidelines
One thing many experts agree on is that it’s never too early to start the conversation. And no, that does not mean a graphic conversation with a two-year-old.
Getting an early start on the conversation early means ensuring lines of communication are open and that your kids know they can come to you and trust you no matter what.
However, we do have some guidelines to follow that makes the talk easier at each age.
Birth to Two Years Old
You should start talking about sex before your kids can even speak. At this age, that involves using proper terms for body parts during appropriate times. Use the terms penis, vagina, nipples, etc. in the bath or when they’re getting dressed.
Using anatomically correct terms serves several purposes.
- It helps your child become comfortable using those terms.
- It helps them communicate if there is an injury.
- It takes the stigma off of those words and those parts.
As your child gets closer to age two, you must start reinforcing when and where it is appropriate to talk about their body and where to show it.
Three to Five Years Old
If you have been diligent in teaching appropriate terms and handling of their body younger, three to five is when you should start introducing boundaries. Kids need to learn when it is ok to touch or be touched by others.
Teaching kids boundaries can be as simple as asking before hugging, encouraging them to be comfortable saying no to hugs or kisses, listening to them when they don’t want your help getting dressed, or encouraging proper sharing.
At this age, you do not need to be explicit, but you should start telling them that no one else should touch their genitals or private areas. You must encourage them to tell you if anyone touches them or makes them uncomfortable and that they won’t be in trouble for telling you.
Continue to teach them when and where to be naked or handle their private areas, all while understanding this is a curious age. They will want to play games where they explore their bodies, like doctor or mom and baby. These games are ok, even encouraged. Remind them that private areas are private and shouldn’t be touched by other people.
Six to Eight Years Old
This age range has more access to shows and digital media (see our screen time post), and they need to learn how to navigate this field safely. It is essential to encourage safe behavior, like not talking or sharing photos with strangers, and talking to you if they’re ever uncomfortable, is critical.
Don’t feel like you need to discuss pornography to your children blatantly, but be aware they might come across it if they have access to the internet on computers, tablets, or phones. Explain these are adult sites, and children do not need to be on them.
Kids this age are still curious about their bodies and might explore masturbation. If they do this on their own, remind them to do it in private, and reinforce hygiene practices.
As kids get closer to eight, it is a good idea to talk more about sexual abuse. As uncomfortable as it may seem, they need to be aware of this to protect themselves. How detailed this conversation is will depend on your child. Start with discussions about how no one should be touching their private areas that aren’t mom, dad, or a doctor, and only when appropriate.
If they get upset, it might be time to pause the talk until later. Either way, be sure to circle back and see what they understood.
It is also appropriate to introduce the idea of puberty. Many girls begin puberty around ten or eleven, so preparing them now is wise. Starting this conversation with an open discussion about how bodies change and grow is a great start.
Show them photos of when they were little and have them look in a mirror now and point out the differences. Don’t get too detailed here about what puberty is, however. Wait until they or their friends start showing physical signs of puberty to talk more in-depth. Look for breast buds in girls around nine or pubic hair in boys around ten.
Nine to Twelve Years Old
Kids in this age will be going through puberty. Now is an excellent time to talk about sexism and sexualization, as they will see examples in books and media around them. Use everyday things to start a discussion. Also, point out positive examples of body image.
Girls, in particular, will start to struggle with body issues. Always be encouraging your child and remind them of ALL of their positive traits without focusing on their body. If this has been a normal thing to hear their entire life, they should be able to handle this challenging time a bit better.
Remind them again and again that their body is changing, just like all of their friends. It’s normal to feel uncomfortable, and that it will pass.
Furthermore, keep the discussion open about safety online and when using media. Remind them that they should never talk to people they don’t know online, even if they seem friendly. They should also never send pictures to anyone online or even by text. You can tell them sharing nude photos is illegal and could be dangerous.
It is also wise to have discussions about how to be respectful in person and on social media. The Golden Rule still applies, even when online. Discuss news stories and ask how they would handle that situation.
Finally, this is an excellent time to start talking about sex and the consequences of it. In today’s society, parents have widely varying views on what is acceptable and not for sexual activity among youth. Wherever you stand, you should help prepare your child.
If you are comfortable, talk about birth control with your kids. If you don’t believe in that, ensure you speak with them about how to handle coming situations and conversations. They need to be prepared and comfortable dealing with what will come their way. Teens make better choices about sex when they know the risks.
Do’s and Don’ts of “The Talk”
It’s no secret that in today’s world, sex is everywhere. The phrase sex sells comes to mind. Not talking to your kids about sex is not an option. Exposure is unavoidable; it’s up to you as the parent to bring it up.
To have a successful sex talk with your kids means that you don’t just have one discussion. It is crucial to keep an ongoing conversation about it. The lines of communication need to be open between you and your kids.
This list isn’t to overwhelm you, but rather give you the power to have a fruitful, productive conversation with your child. No matter how old your kids are, read through this list and implement ideas when appropriate.
With that in mind, here are some things to help the conversation go smoothly.
Be Clear About Your Views on Sex
You must be clear and firm on where you stand regarding sex. Have an honest discussion with your spouse about your beliefs. Know what values you want to pass on to your kids.
Ask your spouse when you want your children to have their first sexual experience and at what age you are comfortable with your kids knowing sexual things.
The last thing you want to do is go into the conversation unprepared. Being firm in your beliefs will help guide the discussion with your kids.
Most kids want to go to their parents first and only seek outside information if they can’t get it from their parents. Being available and engaged with your kids will encourage them to come to you first with questions or concerns.
Furthermore, your kids will be less likely to engage in things they shouldn’t if they know their parents are active and provide supervision. No, you can’t watch them all the time. It will help to be aware of what they do and with who. Being involved could be a motivation for them to make good choices.
Mostly, they need to be comfortable with you. Comfort won’t happen overnight. Establishing that relationship from the time they’re little will pay dividends when they’re older.
Be Intentional With Location
Having “the” conversation in the car may seem like a good idea. You are in there daily, and you aren’t making eye contact, which might be a plus. Avoid this, though.
Don’t make a huge deal, but be intentional with your conversation. Sometimes bringing up the topic while you’re engaged in an activity is helpful, as well. Ask your child to help you with something or go outside for a walk or to throw a ball. They might be more likely to open up when they’re active.
Another great way to get them to open up is to create a tradition. Maybe once a month they get one on one time for coffee, dinner, park, or a library trip. Establishing this one-on-one time will give them a dedicated time to talk to just you without daily distractions.
Don’t be afraid to ask them what they know or where they have heard things. You might be surprised by the answer.
Also, ask them what they think about things. It should be a conversation, not a lecture. Ask for their opinion, so they feel appreciated and valued.
Be Clear About What’s At Stake
Kids’ brains are still developing and will develop until around age 25. With this in mind, it’s no surprise kids don’t always make the best choices all of the time, hence teen pregnancy, STDs, drinking, texting and driving, and more. Teens often think they are infallible and invincible.
These facts make it essential kids understand the consequences of having sex. You don’t have to terrify them with gruesome pictures, but they need to understand there are repercussions.
Use these statistics to give them a leg to stand on and not let other people push their choices. Encourage kids to view sex as part of an intimate relationship and has immense power. Help them adopt this viewpoint.
Wait to Start The Talk
The last thing you want to do is start the conversation when your child is 14 or 15 and already beginning to be influenced by friends and the media. Refer to Part 1 about how to have this conversation at each age as they’re growing.
If you have been having this conversation for as long as they can remember, they are more likely to trust you and seek your advice. Your kids will be getting information from other places. You want them to come to you with questions or for clarification.
If you have laid the groundwork, the more difficult and detailed discussions will be more comfortable, as well.
Use Inappropriate Terms
It’s very appealing to use kid-friendly terms for private parts. Avoid this at all costs. Kids need to know the anatomical names for all of their body parts. Creating goofy names for body parts will not help them in the long run.
Using real names will keep the taboo off of those words and parts as they get older as well as help in the discussion as they age.
Answer What They Don’t Ask
Many parents are nervous about the talk because they think they have to give more information than they genuinely do. It might be difficult, but only answer what they ask and then stop talking. Don’t feel the need to fill up every second with words.
Give an age-appropriate response and let them think about it. Don’t keep talking because your child doesn’t answer right away.
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