As children see and hear adult images and language at a younger age, parents need to start thinking about having the “birds and bees talk” earlier.
These days children often are exposed to adult language, images and behaviors before they are developmentally prepared to handle them. As children see and hear these at a younger age, parents need to start thinking about having the “birds and bees talk” earlier than our parents did when we were kids.
Nikki Boyd, coordinator of health and wellness for Norton Children’s Prevention & Wellness, says that discussing sexual health, reproduction and sexuality should not be a one-time conversation. Age-appropriate discussions with your child should be ongoing.
Here are four myths to think through.
Myth: Wait until your child asks you about sex
Truth: A recent study finds that more than 40 percent of parents don’t get around to talking to their kids about safe-sex practices until after their kids are sexually active. Parents should start these talks when the child is around the fourth grade.
Never avoid a teachable moment. Conversations in the bathtub, in the car or while watching television are opportunities to make the sex talk a series of small conversations. Remember, children don’t always seem like they are listening. They absorb information and learn behaviors throughout their life. When they have questions, they’ll likely look to their parents for guidance.
Myth: Ask a lot of questions to see what your child already knows
Truth: Talking about sex is already uncomfortable for both parent and child, so don’t make it worse by asking a lot of questions. A general conversation about sex allows all involved to move forward without the child getting uncomfortable by having to directly answer questions. By creating a respectful environment of open communication, the child will not feel interrogated or ridiculed. This often allows the conversation to develop in a productive way.
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“It also is important that these conversations occur in a nonconfrontational and nonjudgmental way,” Boyd said. “Be proactive in ensuring your child understands safe sex practices.”
Myth: It’s easier if we make up names for body parts
Truth: The words might embarrass you, but avoid using euphemisms and colloquialisms in place of the actual names of body parts. Pediatricians and sociologists recommend using anatomically correct terms like penis, vagina, uterus and sperm as early as age 2. As the child gets older, knowing the correct terms will allow the child to learn about the words with no embarrassment or implied silliness.
In addition, sexual violence prevention educators say that teaching children anatomically correct terms promotes positive body image, self-confidence and parent-child communication; discourages perpetrators; and, in the event of abuse, helps children and adults more accurately talk about what happened.
Myth: Talking to your child about sex means you are saying it’s OK to have sex
Truth: Acknowledging sexuality is not the same as giving permission to have sex. In fact, talking about sex often presents opportunities for parents to discuss abstinence, appropriate sexual behaviors and beliefs. Having an open and honest discussion allows the child to learn about sex from their parent (and role model) rather than cultural and social influences.
According to Boyd, studies show that parents are a child’s preferred source for health information, so they absolutely respect your input and guidance.