Now that my kids are teens, it’s really hard to have “the talk.”

“I’m good,” one of my sons said when I raised the issue the other day in the car. We were driving back from a college tour and I thought it the timing was perfect, but next thing I knew he’d clapped on his headphones and fallen asleep.

“The talk” is about sex, of course, and experts say that it shouldn’t be a single discussion, but an ongoing dialogue that parents initiate with kids when they’re very small. Now, I’m grateful to the wise preschool teacher who encouraged us to have “the talk” way back then. At the time I thought it seemed too early, but now I get it: for little kids, sex is a matter-of-fact issue — kind of gross and extremely interesting.

Teenagers, on the other hand, have developing bodies and scary sexual feelings, and talking about sex feels too tender and highly charged. “Nooooo!” my 13-year-old wailed when I raised the issue not long ago. “We just had sex ed, again, in school, and I don’t want to think about it anymore!”

Sex ed at home

So, yeah, it’s a tough topic to broach, but talking to your kids is essential. You may think your child isn’t listening, but at least some of what you say is getting through. In fact, research shows that kids whose parents talk to them about sex are more likely to wait to have their first sexual experience. And, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teens say that parents have the strongest influence on their decisions about dating and relationships (more than peers or popular culture).

Perhaps not surprisingly, however, one in six teens report that their parents have never talked to them about sex, and 70 percent of parents wait until their children are 11 or older to initiate “the talk.” That’s what Family Circle and Planned Parenthood learned when they teamed up to conduct a “Sex Talk” survey. Among other things, they found that kids may be experimenting more than parents realize. One in three kids admits to having sent a naked photo of themselves via text, for example, but only 41 percent of kids said their parents had talked to them about the risks of sexting.

Birds, bees, and sexting

So if you’re one of the one in six, or you’re waiting until your child is older, or you’re hoping that by not saying the word “sexting” your child will never encounter it, research makes it clear that it’s time to speak up. So try to initiate “the talk” and keep on trying — even if you’re met with groans or shut out by headphones.

Not sure how to start? Get more information about having “the talk” with younger children here, and teens here.

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Updated: July 23, 2019