When Should I Start "The Talk"?
Hello my fellow parents. Let’s talk about “the talk”. I don’t mean to add pressure to your already hectic parental role, but YOU are the primary sex educator. Not the school, church, government, or media. It’s YOUR job. In fact, research indicates that teens are listening to their parents’ advice the most!1 You may be thinking, “but my kid isn’t a teenager yet!” Well…surprise! Forming a healthy sexuality starts way before the teenage years and kids need parental guidance. Here is a breakdown of when and how to approach the delicate subject of sexuality with your children. (The following are suggestions from myself and sexual education expert Dr. Meg Meeker. Her full article is listed in the footnotes.)
Pre-Pre-School (Typically Ages 3 and below):
Yes it starts this early! I don’t recommend telling your 3-year old about the mechanics of sex, but their opinions about body image are beginning to form. This is the time to start planting the “treasure seeds”. Tell your child that their body is a treasure. Reinforce your child’s beauty and be wary of any sarcastic comments that may make them think their body is bad. Dr. Meeker suggests changing the child’s diapers away from public view and to never act ashamed or embarrassed by your child’s body.
Even if you’re apathetic about your child’s modesty, I still recommend changing their diaper in private out of respect for others. (Even the smallest of dirty diapers can packs an odor punch with the potential to bring grown men to tears.)
Pre-School/Kindergarten (Typically Ages 3-5):
This is usually the time when kids have been potty trained and begin using the bathroom within a school setting. Talk to your child about proper bathroom procedures. It is important that they know who to ask for help if any “bathroom issues” arise. It may feel awkward saying this to your child, but they need the specifics. Who is allowed to see their private parts? (Their parents and the family physician.) Remember to emphasize the fact that we cover our bodies because they are good and not everyone is worthy to see them. The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop is a great children’s book that reinforces the value of chastity and self-worth. I highly recommend reading this book with your children.
Elementary School (Typically Ages 5-10)
You should continue reinforcing proper body boundaries with your child. This is a unique time where curiosity can get the best of children. (You show me yours and I’ll show you mine). It is important to let your child know that other kids are not worthy of seeing their private parts and if another child asks to see their private parts they should let you know. Always reinforce the concept that their body is good. Dr. Meeker says most children learn about the mechanics of sexual intercourse around age 8. This number may vary with each child. You are the parent so you have to be the judge of when to offer this information.
This is when “the talk” happens. Now, when most parents think of “the talk” they think of an extremely awkward 3 hour conversation over the dinner table. But it should not be a single event. I recommend asking questions like, “Are the kids at school talking about sex?” and let then listen and respond appropriately. One parent shared with me how he approached this subject with his son. He took his son on a camping trip and told him “Your body is an amazing and special gift from God. This is the first of thousands of conversations we get to have about this topic. I know other people are going to tell you things about your body and sex, but I will be the one to tell you the truth. Do not ever feel embarrassed or ashamed to come to me with your questions. I love you.”
Your kids deserve to hear the truth about sexuality from you. You love them and have their best interests in mind.
Junior High School (Typically Ages 11-14)
This is typically the puberty age. Your child may be dealing with significant stress as their body begins to change. One common way to ease their anxiety is to plan. You should make sure your child is prepared for these significant changes by providing them with the proper information. I suggest that the same sex parent provide this information to the child. If you are a single parent of the opposite sex, you may want to consider asking a close family member or mentor to help you.
Girls: I can’t imagine how terrifying it would be for a girl to start her period with no prior knowledge of what periods are. You may want to pack an emergency kit for her containing tampons and extra underwear. It may help her avoid an embarrassing situation and help her feel prepared. As we said before, proper planning can ease anxiety.
Boys: A great way to approach the topic of puberty with boys is to create an atmosphere of initiation. Ceremonies are important for masculinity. In his book Raising a Modern-Day Knight, Robert Lewis writes, “We need celebrations … to mark the passages from adolescence to manhood. Boys need manhood ceremonies that will live on in their memory-elaborate occasions that will ‘spike’ forever defining moments of the passage to modern-day knighthood. Your son needs them, Dad!” Puberty should be celebrated as a passage into manhood. Hygiene is an important issue to cover with young men. Many teachers find themselves having awkward conversations with their students about proper hygiene. Don’t leave it up to the teacher.
15 and Beyond…
This is when parents typically believe “the talks” should start, but quite honestly, they should have been going on for a while now. Shaping a healthy sexuality begins at an early age, but if you’re coming to the game late, don’t worry. Start now. Here are some tips:
Ask questions about their friends. Teens might be hesitant to personally open up to their parents, but they will often share things about their friends. By having your finger on the pulse on their friends’ activities, you can often gauge your own child’s activities. This also allows you to determine the positive and negative friends. You can take this knowledge and encourage your teen to hang out with friends who are the positive influences. Be careful not to specifically exclude certain friends, which might backfire. A great strategy to accomplish this goal is to befriend the “positive influence” friends’ parents. If you plan an event, you can extend an invite the positive friends and their parents, which eliminates the possibility of backfire that often comes with saying, “You can’t see those friends.”
Establish clear and consistent dating guidelines. Some parents will actually write a contract together with their teen and both parties sign it.
Establish a curfew and stay awake until your teen gets home. When they arrive home you can look them in the eyes and give them a hug. This allows you to screen them for any alcoholic or smoky scents.
Be careful not to speak to your child while in an emotional state. I have found that it is extremely beneficial for both parties to set aside a specific date and time to talk about any issues that arise.
Pornography exposure has reached epidemic levels. If your child has an internet device make sure you have proper security measures in place. CovenantEyes.com is a great software that allows the parents to see every website their child visits…even on smartphones and tablets.
Hang in there parents. You have a tough, thankless job. Keep calm and carry your cross. You are not alone. You can ask me specific questions and request resources by clicking the “contact” tab at PracticalPurity.com
1 Bill Albert, “With Once Voice 2007: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off About Teen Pregnancy,” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, February 2007, pp. 7–8, at http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/resources/pdf/pubs/WOV2007
Dr. Meg Meeker’s Website: https://megmeekermd.com/tag/sex-education/