Dear parents, you can be your child's sex educator

Dear Parents: You can be your child’s primary sex educator!

Children desperately need adults that can talk to them openly about their bodies, sexuality, puberty and sex. So often, parents feel unsure, uncomfortable and unprepared to open these conversations, so they remain ... silent. Silence is the enemy of sex education! Research shows that children are primarily influenced by their parents. So, it is imperative that parents educate themselves ahead of time and be prepared to talk to their children about these important topics, as well as be the one their child seeks out with their questions and concerns...uncomfortable or not!

From babyhood, boys and girls need to understand the names for their sexual body parts. By that I do not mean, “your woo-woo, or wee-wee” -- I mean PENIS and VAGINA and VULVA. It is important for genitals to be named in the same matter-of-fact manner as other body parts, not associated with nicknames or snickering or attitudes that shame. For example: this is your leg, this is your nose, and this is your penis. This is your elbow, this is your vulva, and you pee out of your urethra. Young children also need to hear often that their body is unique to them. That no two bodies are alike! It is crucial that they understand from the get go that all bodies are different and differences are beautiful and normal. The comparisons begin at an early age and young children need a solid base of body self-acceptance before the puberty years ahead. By starting early and often, these conversations become a natural part of daily life.

One of the most vital roles parents can play is to be their child’s primary source of information and education on matters surrounding sexuality and sex. It is imperative to communicate that you are open to ANY question asked. That nothing is off limits. Children need to be assured that if a parent does not know the answer, they will find out for them, and get back to them. AND THEN DO IT! Today’s child has easy access to the Internet and if you will not answer their questions, they will either Google for the answer, ask their peers (who knows what they know) or view pornography to gather information. So many kids today when asked, say that their primary source of sex education is from pornography. There are so many mixed messages for children in our culture today; it is crucial that parents help their child navigate the confusion. You can do this by playing an active role in providing accurate information and being available. You can do this by consistently affirming what is normal and natural.

As your child asks questions, learn to really listen for what is being asked. A good first response might be, “Wow! What a great question, what made you think of that?” to allow the child to give context to what they truly want to know. The key here is giving the right information at the right time. So, don’t be afraid to take that pause after a difficult question posed, and with your game face on, ask that additional context question before you answer. Another idea is to give a little bit of information and wait to see if that is all they really want to know or if you should add a bit more. If your child isn’t asking any questions, take the initiative and ask questions yourself. An easy way to jumpstart a conversation is to use things you encounter together. For example: a breastfeeding mother; a new baby, or a pregnant woman. With an elementary age child you might ask something like, “I know kids at school are probably talking about sex. Are you hearing things you have questions about?” or “When I was your age, I had questions about…. (pubic hair or breasts or where babies come from), have you ever thought about that?”

Ideally, it is best if these kinds conversations start at an early age and occur often as a normal part of your family conversations. However, it is never too late to start being available and opening the doors to talking about sexuality and sex. No matter the age of your child, take the initiative and break the silence!