Beyond the birds and the bees: 5 tips for having ‘The Talk’
Most parents feel uncomfortable talking to their kids about sex. (Frankly, the kids aren’t nuts about it, either.) But establishing an open, long-term dialogue is critical for helping a child to develop healthy, lifelong ideas about sex and relationships. In this story, I like how Cape Cod Healthcare pediatrician Kathryn Rudman, MD, and sex educator Megara Bell deliver nuggets of advice that are specific, respectful and based on real-life situations. – Sarah Welch DeMayo
If the thought of talking to your children about sex makes you run for the hills, consider this: Would you rather they develop lifelong ideas about sex, relationships and values from you… or from the Internet, peers and media?
“Kids know way more about sex than we think they know, but it may not be correct information,” explains pediatrician Kathryn M. Rudman, MD of Seaside Pediatrics in West Yarmouth.
In today’s world of smartphones and social media, children are bombarded with increasingly graphic content and situations every day, from teenage sexting to the sexualization of girls in media.
Parents can counter these pressures by establishing a framework for honest, comfortable and ongoing communication about sex.
The goal? “Feeling positive about relationships, body image, gender equality, respect and sexuality will give [kids] the tools to make better choices,” says Megara Bell, director of Partners in Sex Education, who teaches at public and private schools in Massachusetts.
Here are 5 tips for communicating with your child:
Talk early and often.
Experts say don’t kick the can down the road when it comes to earning your child’s trust. A discussion about sex shouldn’t be a one-and-done conversation about where babies come from, but rather a series of age-appropriate conversations over many years.
“You want to be an askable parent,” Bell says. “By establishing open, honest communication in the early years, your child will be more likely to turn to you during the tougher years of adolescence.”
Dr. Rudman says preschoolers can learn the proper names of body parts, how babies are born and different definitions of family. Elementary and middle school children need their parents to teach what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior and to model respect for boundaries, selves and others.
Take advantage of teachable moments.
Children learn more from real-life situations than hypothetical situations, so look to media, popular culture and everyday life to trigger a discussion. Either your child or you can get the ball rolling. Here are some examples:
- A song with suggestive lyrics plays on the car radio.
- A news report refers to child sexual abuse.
- You overhear your 13-year-old daughter talking about someone at school texting photos of herself in a bikini.
- You and your teenage son are watching a TV drama where a man is verbally abusive to his girlfriend.