Q. My eight year old is asking me about sex. She has asked a few times and I'm not sure how much to go into it.
Isn't this covered at school? Should I sit her down at eight and tell her everything? I want to just hand her a book like my mother did for me, but I know, from my own experience, that's not the best approach. What is?
A. Parents are inevitably faced with the question, "Where did I come from?" and many angst over what to say, when and how much or how little. Many of today's parents grew up still receiving an awkward once off one way conversation about "the birds and the bees" and then precious little at school itself beyond anatomy and pubertal body changes.
And that was awkward too. Some parents embrace the opportunity to be the primary sexuality educators of their children, and others want to run a mile and mutter under their breath things like, "why hasn't the bloody school covered this already!"
Parents are often caught off guard when their kids start to ask about gender and sexuality.
Why does Sarah have two mums and no dad? What makes a girl and boy different? Where do babies come from? If it's the tummy, do grown ups eat babies?
The more misinformation we give children, the harder it is to unwind myths and more importantly: the more difficult it is to be believable to them when we really are telling them the truth, like when we share our values with them about sex and relationships.
Rather than tell children half truths and things that are downright wrong, it's best to tell them only enough to answer their question.
Tell them the truth and they will know that you can be a trustworthy source of information.
End each short "teachable moment" conversation with "Is there anything else you want to know?" and you will become another valuable asset in your children's lifelong education: an askable parent.
If they know you won't shy away from any topic, then when they have questions on those particular topics, they won't have picked up the subtle or not so subtle message not to approach you about 'that sex stuff' and you are once again in the driver's seat of helping to shape their decisions and values.
And trust me, these days, you want to be in the driver's seat. You don't want to be wiping your brow and sighing with relief that school covers sexuality education in Year 10.
Or even Year 8 in some progressive schools.
By then it's far too late anyway, and that too little too late factual approach (I like to call it 'the plumbing: penises and vaginas, how they work, but how they should not be used!) may be in direct contrast to your own values, or it may not even begin to cover the dilemmas faced by teens and tweens today. Don't stick your head in the sand - listen to your child.
Chances are they have asked you about sexuality a lot, before coming directly out and asking about sex. Seize on these "teachable moments" to provide information and instill values.
The world is changing and you need to change with it. Do not approach sexuality education with any expectation that it will resemble the birds and the bees talk you received.
More under 5 year olds than ever not only have access to, but possess their very own iPad, notebook or tablet.
Websites that offer play opportunities, such as, for example, adopt a virtual pet, also offer opportunities for chat and integration with other social media.
Some parents open Facebook accounts for kids before they are even born to start charting their journey and making friends. Other parents ask at dinner parties: so my ten year old wants his own Facebook account - do I let him?
The world of information technology enables children to engage in not only unsupervised interaction with strangers, adults and other kids (including bullies) but whole online worlds parents aren't even aware their kids are using - and not just porn, but a variety of sexually implicit material too. I speak as a mother, and as a sexuality educator of more than twenty years: if you do the following, your children will be better adjusted in love and therefore in life.
1. As a mature adult, be believable when your kids ask you a question even remotely related to the subject of sex, love and relationships.
2. As a parent, be askable and open to their questions - and here is the hard part: no matter when, no matter where. Receive a question about sex when they see you buying a feminine hygiene product? Stare that question in the face and answer it.
Teachable moments are not just conveniently hidden away privately at home!
3. Share your values with your children without waiting for them to ask. You're the grown up - don't be reactive. Initiate the conversation, over and over again.
4. Be positive. Sex is a pleasurable experience. Love is grand. School curricula are more often than not fear based (don't do it! you'll get an infection! Look at this photo here of warts in their long left untreated state!). You owe it to your children to share that there are truly wonderful parts of it all.
5. Be young yourself. Don't just remember what it was like to be young in your day and age. Instead, share in today's youth culture with your child. Embrace the music, television, apps, social media sites. Without abandoning the boundary of being their parent first and friend second, join them on their level in their emotional and relational lives and you'll be rewarded with trust and understanding.
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