I must admit that I was not thrilled to have “The Talk” with my 9-year-old son, but I knew it was necessary. Although I try to protect him from content I deem inappropriate, I cannot be with him at all times. Kids at school will talk, billboards will prompt questions (strip clubs seem to have unlimited advertising budgets), and TV commercials will force your hand. While watching football on TV one day, we were bombarded by Cialis ads. I tried to turn the channel, but my son’s inquisitive mind had already started processing the information. Have you ever tried to explain a 3-hour erection to a 9-year-old? It’s not a pleasant experience.
Because of these influences, I realized that I could wait no longer to talk to my son about sex. If you’re like me, the sex talk you received from your parents (if you received one) was less than ideal. My mother signed the permission slip for me to attend the 5th-grade sex education class, but that was the extent of it. As the single mother of a boy, she probably wasn’t comfortable with discussing the topic. She finally broke down and talked to me as I was leaving for college.
“Son, you’re about to be an adult now,” she said with a hint of nervousness. “Just make sure to wear a condom and be responsible. Do you understand what I’m saying to you?”
“Um, yes Mom. I understand,” I said. We both stood quietly as the weight of our words hung above our heads. My mother broke the uncomfortable silence with the following advice.
“If you have any other questions, you can talk to your uncles,” she said.
“Okay, mom,” I said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her about the bad sex advice I had already received from some of my relatives.
As parents, we must take control of these discussions and have them early and often. I’m no expert in delivering “The Talk,” but I have found success with the following 7 tips to help parents talk to their children about sex:
As a parent, you know your child better than anyone else. Only you can tell if your child is ready to discuss sex. I decided to have the talk with my 9-year-old son because I remembered what things were like for me when I was his age. We boys often joked about our sexual organs and wanted to play doctor. I recall one incident on my school bus when one girl pulled down her underwear to flash us. Because of these memories, I decided to arm my son with a proper foundation and accurate information. Also, I’m cognizant of the fact that he is approaching puberty and I want him to be prepared to deal with his body’s changes. Keep in mind that each child is different. Some are more mature than others and better able to process this information. If your child asks questions about sex, he/she is probably ready for you to have a conversation that is appropriate for his/her maturity level.
You may not be ready to have the talk with your younger children, but you must be prepared. You can talk to other parents, read books/blogs, consult your clergy, or ask your child’s pediatrician for advice. To prepare myself, I had long conversations with my wife, did research online, prayed for wisdom, and purchased a set of books to help facilitate my discussion. Arming myself with knowledge made me feel much more confident.
On the day of our talk, I took my son to our guest bedroom, closed the door, and had a one-on-one conversation. My wife wrangled the other two kids so they wouldn’t disturb us. This was a special moment for us and I tried to create an environment that was free from distractions and conducive to openness.
Be Open and Honest
Although it was uncomfortable, I spoke frankly about sex, pregnancy, birth, and puberty. While I had his attention, I also told him about the dangers of sexual abuse and gave him some tips on how to protect himself. I watched his expressions while we talked and I noticed that he was a bit shell-shocked at times, but he handled the conversation with maturity and aplomb. Parents often want to shield their kids from the truth because they believe their children can’t handle it. I’ve learned that kids are often more sophisticated than we give them credit for. Your candor will help to build trust and show them that you mean it when you tell them that they can discuss anything with you. It also helps eliminate the embarrassment associated with sex.
Ask for Questions and Feedback
When I finished my prepared statements, I asked my son if he had any questions. He had plenty. I patiently answered each one. I also asked him if he already knew any of this information. He told me about some of the conversations the kids have on the school bus. I corrected the misinformation and told him to come to me when he wants to know the truth. I gave him a book to read on his own and told him to come back later after he’s had a chance to soak up the information.
Let Your Child Know That You Are Available
After our talk, I told my son that he could always come to me when he had questions about sex. It is very important to honor this promise. If you turn your child away when he/she has questions, the bond of trust will be broken and you may have a difficult time mending it.
Understand That This is the First in a Series of Conversations About Sex
Parents breathe a sigh of relief after they’ve finished “The Talk.” However, the first talk is only one in a series of talks that we need to have with our kids. A 9-year-old’s understanding of sex is much different than a 13-year-old’s or a 17-year-old’s. We need to have an ongoing conversation in order to correct misconceptions and instill our values. Most of all, we need to build trust with our kids. If they feel as if they can trust us, they will bring their most sensitive issues to us.
The final message I left with my son was that it was not his responsibility to share this information with his friends and classmates. I let him know that it is the parents’ responsibility to talk to their children about sex.
I gave my son a big hug and kissed him on the forehead. I wanted to hold him forever and keep him from growing up. But I know that he will not be a little boy forever. My son will be a man before I know it, and I’m glad that I was able to equip him with some knowledge that will help him on his journey.