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Tips from the pros:
By Laura Scholes
Why you should talk sooner rather than later
Although teenagers today are waiting longer to have sex, research shows that 13 percent have had sex by age 15, and by their 19th birthday, seven in 10 teens have had intercourse. And because young adults are not marrying until their mid-20s, on average, this means they’re at increased risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
So even though talking to your young child — preschool to fifth grade — about sex may seem premature, it’s actually the ideal time to do it. As your child enters her tweens and teens and becomes self-conscious about her body and about personal matters in general, it will become increasingly difficult to raise the issue. Take advantage of this window of opportunity to create a foundation of openness and honesty with your child.
“This stuff is very hard and complicated to talk about, but for me it is a health issue,” says Robie H. Harris, a former teacher and now celebrated author of a series of children’s books about sex and the body, including It's Perfectly Normal, and Who Has What. “I write these books because I feel that this is part of life, and it's okay to wonder about it. It’s important not just to kids’ physical health, but also to their emotional health.”
Not one talk, but many
Most experts agree that “the talk” really isn’t a talk anymore, but an ongoing conversation, one that starts much earlier than it did even a few decades ago.
“Limiting your child’s education about sex to a single talk produces an atmosphere of shame,” says Wendla A. Schwartz, M.D., a child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director of Solutions Psychiatric Associates in Los Gatos, CA. “Children will definitely ask, and if a parent has in his mind that a five-year-old isn’t ready for ‘the talk,’ then he gets flustered and says, ‘Go ask your mother,’ and then the mother gets flustered. Kids are great at detecting discomfort, so by the time ‘the talk’ comes around at puberty, they’ve got the idea that sex is shameful and bad, and that’s going to stick with them forever.”
Instead, make it an ongoing, low-key dialogue between you and your child that begins when they are very young and goes on throughout their tween and teenage years.
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