Yep, that one. The one with the capital T and deserves air quotes. The one you dread as a parent. The one that signifies your child isn’t a baby anymore because, well, they want to know where babies come from.
Maybe you remember having the Talk with a parent when you were a child. Maybe it was a sibling or a friend. Maybe you never had an official Talk and pieced it together on your own. Maybe the school’s sexual education curriculum was enough.
Today, children can learn about anything and everything on the internet. Does that mean there’s no need to engage in an awkward conversation about an uncomfortable topic? Not exactly. While the internet is a great resource, it can open doors for your child, ones they are not quite ready to handle and are dangerous once unlocked.
So, what can you do? How can you approach the cringe-worthy conversation without, well, cringing?
As children grow from the curious toddler playing with his “thing” in the bathtub to needing specific undergarments for sports, it’s healthy to have age-appropriate mini-talks. It can start when siblings notice that boys stand to use the bathroom whereas girls sit. A simple explanation of the difference between a boy and girl will suffice in such a situation. When your daughter starts to notice her friends are wearing training bras and she’s not, it’s helpful to explain that girls “blossom” at different ages, and puberty is not a one-size-fits-all phase.
Having mini-talks helps create an open dialogue between parents and children. It reminds children that they can come to you when they need to. It gives them confidence in who they are becoming and that what they are going through is normal. It also helps reduce the pressure of having one big, all-encompassing Talk.
Using a Book
Some children (and parents) need a more visual or guided approach. American Girl has books for both girls and boys that discuss puberty and the on-going changes of pre-pubescent bodies. These books break down proper hygiene, healthy diets, and hormones in digestible chapters for children to read on their own or with a parent. The Care & Keeping of You for girls and Guys Stuff: The Body Book for Boys are recommended for ages 9-12.
For teenagers, consider Love, Sex, and God. Recommended for ages 14 and up, these are gender specific and delve into more mature content. The American Medical Association also has gender specific books, Girls’/Boys’ Guide to Becoming a Teen, with more content on sex than the pre-teen books mentioned above.
If you’re on the hunt for a parenting guide, check out Parenting Through Puberty from the American Academy of Pediatrics. This evidenced-based book gives more in-depth suggestions on how to have the Talk.
The Hands-Off Approach
If having The Talk is not in your comfort zone, check for educational forums. Most schools provide a grade-wide sex education curriculum, usually in fifth grade. Boys and girls are typically separated and receive gender-appropriate content. Contact your school district and inquire about the curriculum. In doing so, you may feel the school’s lesson is sufficient.
On the fly
That said, kids are curious. They hear words, phrases, and innuendos at school that they may not understand. Even if they don’t fully comprehend, they don’t want to appear naïve about it to their friends. At the same time, it may be weird for them to approach you, the parent. Sometimes, having a blatant conversation when it comes up is the way to go.
Ours happened in the car on the way to basketball practice. The question came from the backseat under the cover of a dark night. As awkward as it is, having the conversation when your child initiates it may be less stressful than a formal, planned conversation.
When you do have the Talk with your child, use biological terminology. Give your child the correct names for body parts. Explain what boys go through and what girls go through. This gives your child a dual-sided view providing a more complete understanding of sex and the changes both genders experience during puberty.
Discuss the gross stuff, like bodily fluids and hair. Discuss what “No” means, and that urges and desires don’t have to be acted upon. Discuss how your family’s faith interprets and responds to sex. Give your child the tools to understand what is going on with his/her body and the guidance to know what is acceptable or not.
Don’t forget about media and society’s influence. Incorporate sexting, social media, and peer pressure into your conversation. Take the opportunity to discuss boundaries, what is okay and not okay to share on social media, and why predators may lurk there. Teach them how to be safe, whether it’s on the internet or in the bedroom.
Don’t assume your child already knows this stuff. Be available for questions down the road. Have multiple conversations if necessary, especially if your child inquires about sex at an early age. Educating your curious 10 year-old about how he was conceived is different than educating your 16 year-old about safe sex and STD’s.
Above all, properly educating your child is worth a few cringes and some awkwardness. Hearing from you will stick with him or her much longer than your discomfort.