Let’s face it: “The Talk ” is one of the most embarrassing things a parents and teenager will go through together. But it’s also one of the most important.
So that leads to the question: when should we be having it? (The talk, that is…)
Believe it or not, 10-12 is a good age to start talking about sex and sexuality. Although tweens are young, they’re also more receptive to information and less likely to interpret our concern as judgmental or accusatory. It’s also generally well before they start to have serious interest in the opposite sex. A hypothetical conversation about something that may occur in the future is much easier to talk about than last night’s date or next month’s prom.
A Few “Tried & True” Pearls on How to Talk to Your Tween or Teen About Sex
- You may be uncomfortable bringing up the topic of sex. This may be even harder if your own parents didn’t talk to you about it. It’s most important not to let this interfere with having this crucial conversation. It’s also ok to admit this discomfort to your teen. Don’t forget to keep your sense of humor; it’s ok to laugh.
- Talking about sex is not an endorsement of sexual activity. Many studies have shown that a good rapport with parents and discussing sex and sexuality actually delays onset of sexual activity.
- Don’t try to have “The Talk” all at once. This is a topic that can be introduced in small doses, as opportunity permits. Driving in the car, putting away groceries, doing dishes are all good opportunities to talk, a little at a time. You may find yourself one night watching a TV show or movie with your child that touches on the subject of sexuality. This is another good opportunity to jump-start a conversation
- Be a good listener. Today’s norms are different from what you grew up with. (Texting and social media, anyone?)
- Teach strategies to manage sexual pressure. Emphasize that No Means No. With girls, it’s especially important to discuss eye contact. When a girl says no, but looks away, some boys may interpret this as uncertainty, or even agreemen
- Realize that the nuts and bolts of sexuality are usually covered in school, but that the important thing to do is to talk about sexual activity taking place in the context of a loving relationship.
- 11-12 isn’t too young to start having a conversation about unwanted pregnancy and protection from STDs. Be sure to clarify the dangers of oral sex, as STDs can arise from this kind of contact as well. It’s also a good time to talk about emotional consequences of the attachment that results from having sex for the first time. When a boy says he is ready because he anticipates being with the same girl “for a long time,” he may mean 6 months. If a girl realizes that “a long time” only means 6 months, she may not want to have sex.
Some Difficult Questions That May Come Up, Particularly With Older Teens:
1. How do I know if I’m ready to have sex?
There are many reasons a teen may decide he or she is ready: love, curiosity, pressure from peers, girlfriend/boyfriends, use of alcohol or drugs. This is a good chance to communicate your values and expectations to your teen. Talk about potential situations ahead of time to avoid peer pressure or a decision made in the haze of being under the influence.
2. What if I think I’m gay/lesbian/bisexual?
Many teens wonder if they are gay, lesbian or bisexual. First of all, listen to what they have to say. Praise your teen for sharing his/her feelings. Let them know you love them unconditionally.
Be alert for red flags of dating. These are warning signs that may indicate an abusive relationship:
- Alcohol or drug use
- Avoidance of friends and social events
- Excusing their dating partner’s behavior
- Fearfulness around their dating partner
- Significantly older dating partner
- Loss of interest in school or activities that were once enjoyable
- Suspicious bruises, scratches, or other injuries.
For more information, check out the great adolescent medicine page on the Children’s Hospital webpage.
Dr. Susan Stevens, who co-developed and teaches our Puberty. Seriously? class, joined Kids Plus in 2012.