What Age Should Parents Teach Their Children Healthy Sexuality?
Anytime I speak to parents about teaching their children healthy sexuality, I ask them a question, “Did you receive healthy, positive, values-centered sex education from your parents growing up?” Many times, no one(!) raises their hands or else, it’s just a few at the most! Since most people didn’t receive good sex education from their parents, it makes it even more difficult to talk with our kids about the “S” word. If we do, we want to postpone it until it’s almost too late.
All studies tell us that the more healthy, positive sex education kids receive from home, the less promiscuous they will be. The problem is that since we didn’t receive it from our parents, we don’t have role models and let’s face it, it awkward to talk about sex with our kids. I write books on the subject and my own children who are now adults mock me for bringing up the subject at awkward times. Oh well.
So, what age should parents have “the talk?” First, it’s not one talk! Sorry. The one talk wonder doesn’t work. It’s best to set up a continuous dialog that begins “sooner than later.” Before you stop reading because I’m suggesting you discuss sex in its entirety when your baby girl is only 5 years old, that’s not the case. I’m simply suggesting that when kids feel comfortable with their bodies and their sexuality at a younger age, they will be more open to discussing the tougher issues when they are older and ready for those other issues. Let me explain. Here are four distinct developmental stages for you to share with your kids about their sexuality.
Ages 3 to 5 – God Made Your Body
At this age, you want them to begin feeling comfortable with their body and gender. You’ll want to say things like “God made your body. He made boys and He made girls. He created all colors and all languages and God made you. God made some boys and girls with itty-bitty noses. Some He made with big ears. God gave boys and girls different colored eyes – green, blue, brown, hazel and gray.” Then ask them, “What color are your eyes?” However, even earlier than ages 3 to 5, you make sure that you teach your kids the correct name for their private parts. Every little boy has a penis and testicle. Every little girl has vagina and a womb. That’s about as far as you go with “sex education” at this phase of their lives. If they feel good about their body, understand basic differences and sense that you are willing to talk with them, you are preparing them for a deeper conversation in the next phase.
Ages 6 to 9 – How God Makes Babies
Every parent of a 6 to 9-year-old will tell you that this is the age of kids asking a million questions. Some of those questions will deal with issues related around their sexuality. The concept of pregnancy is incredibly intriguing to this age group. They aren’t totally sure how it all works, but they have definitely decided that storks aren’t the ones delivering babies. This is the age to underscore where babies come from and some of the logistics, but they still are not at the age of needing to know the details of intercourse and sexual systems. Another important topic for 6 to 9 year olds centers around inappropriate touch by an adult or teenager. 80% of childhood sexual assaults are committed by someone the child knows, trusts and sometimes loves. A great way of prevention is helping kids understand that if anyone ever tries to touch their private parts, they can tell that person to stop. (This also applies to anyone showing private parts or photos of them.) At this age you help your kids understand that no one has the right to touch them in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable, and that they should tell a grownup they trust (like mom or dad) right away if this should ever happen. You can even add words like “sharing your private parts is something to save for your husband or wife when you are grown and married. That is part of God’s wonderful plan.” Notice that I took the conversation a bit farther on the sharing of private parts but didn’t go into all the details. As your child gets to age 10 or so, they are ready for the next stage, even if the parent isn’t.
Ages 10 to 14 – The Purity Code
Pre-adolescence and young adolescence is a time of great change in their bodies and in relationships. If the average child in the United States views pornography by age 1,1 then parents will want to be the ones to introduce a positive, healthy view of sex and relationships to their children. Sadly because of our silence, kids learn about sex from the internet, cultural icons or friends and none of those people may have the same values as you. This is also the time when you introduce what I call “The Purity Code.” Since kids in our society are making sexual decisions based on emotional involvement that exceeds their maturity level, give your child a goal. Here is what I believe we introduce to them:
In honor of God, my family, and my future spouse, I commit to sexual purity. This includes: (These four values are taking from scriptures in the Bible)
– Honoring God with my body
– Renewing my mind for good
– Turning my eyes from worthless things
– Guarding my heart
As I mentioned, all studies show that positive ongoing conversations with parents will give kids the best shot at making good decisions about their sexuality.
Age 14 and Older
At this stage, you can talk about anything and everything related to sexuality. If you preach and lecture, you will find it doesn’t work. Dialog and authentic communication is by far the most effective way to communicate with older teens.
Talking with our children about sex is seldom easy and typically awkward, but if you don’t, there are plenty of people with different values who would love to. Find the right resources to share with your kids and give it a shot. The worst that can happen is your kids will mock you like my adult children do to me, and then with a smile they will say, “Thanks.”