Lots of parents freeze when it comes to talking to their kids about sexuality. Two of the most common questions I get are:
a) “When is the best time to start talking to my child about sex?” and
b) “What do I say to my child about sex?”
Let me let you in on a little secret: You don’t have to start with the mechanics of “how babies are made”. For parents of infants and toddlers I recommend parents start using the medical/anatomical terms for the parts of the body when you talk to the child; by not using the proper names you convey the message that there is something shameful about the body. If your kids are older than that, you can take a different approach and talk about what values you have in your family around sexuality as a broader concept.
The following is a list of a few topics about sexuality that are common themes. Think about your attitudes about these:
naming the parts of the human body
fitness & health
dating & love
marriage & divorce
friendships & relationships
gay, lesbian, & transgender people (an example: Caitlyn Jenner)
sex work (aka prostitution)
These are some of the essential items that make up topics of conversation you can have with your kids that don’t require you to talk about penises and vaginas. They do have an impact on children.
Many people have opinions about one or more of these items. If you do, do you know from where those ideas come? Did you have formal education about the topic? Were your opinions based on the opinions of those close to you? Were they based on the views expressed in your religion? Are they are still your values today? I ask these questions to help you figure out if this is “yours” or not. I know that lots of my own issues about sexuality came from my mother – I got a palpable fear from her about sex as I grew up. Perhaps that is due to our country’s history of treatment of Native Americans, but whatever the source I’m sure that fear has been passed down for generations.
Politics and religion often make the subject of sex both controversial and emotional. One can try to keep the conversations politically or religiously neutral, but more likely than not people have a lot of strong opinions when it comes to this subject. I have talked about the topic of sexuality with my children for a long time and covered many angles. I have done my best to be as clear as I can in explaining this one key point to my daughters: not everyone (including family) thinks the way I do about sexuality. Some of my values are different than those of others.
These days people share their religious and political opinions freely via social media. Have you expressed your views about these topics with – or in front of your children? Perhaps, maybe even unknowingly, you have started feeding information about your values into the brains of your kids. Via conversations they are engaged in or ones they overhear, children process that information and make conclusions just like adults do.
To illustrate the point about the subtle ways we teach our children our values, check out this short video of a little French boy learning The Power of Love Over Fear from his father after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015:
You can almost see the connections in this little boy’s head being made as he talks with his dad about the candles and flowers; his smile at the end is the evidence he learned.
By explaining your values to your children, it gives them a chance to gain understanding which in turn helps to inform them when it comes time to make decisions of their own. Not many people like to be told what to believe without some reasoning or description. I suggest you give them the “why,” not simply “because I said so.”