Are our kids ready to talk about sex?

By Dr. Lisa Hunter, Child Psychologist


We are under pressure from some of the parents of our children's friends (8-year-old twins) to tell them about the birds and bees because "most of the children already know." We think this is too early. But on the other hand we don't want them to learn from their friends. What should we do?


Although talking about sex, love and intimacy can be uncomfortable for both parents and children, these topics are important and necessary to discuss.

I encourage parents to let their children's curiosity and age determine when they begin speaking about these topics and what information they provide. It is also important to let your children know it is OK to discuss these topics so they feel comfortable speaking to you when they do have questions.

Children talk to their friends about all sorts of things so it will be hard to prevent your twins from learning some things about sex from their peers. If they feel it is OK to talk about sex with you, however, they will be more likely to let you know what their friends are telling them.

Have your twins started asking you questions about where babies come from? If so, it is important to answer these questions in an age-appropriate way. Most 8-year-olds are probably not interested in knowing the details about sex, but they may be curious about how their parents make babies. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a helpful fact sheet entitled Talking to Your Kids About Sex. I would encourage you to read this fact sheet to get some ideas about how you may talk to your twins about sex in an age-appropriate way. It is not too early to start having some of these discussions.

Dr. Lisa Hunter is an assistant professor in the department of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the director of school-based mental health programs at Columbia University's Center for the Advancement of Children's Mental Health. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and evaluation of school-based mental health and prevention programs. In addition she is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in New York City. She specializes in cognitive behavioral treatment for children and adolescents.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.