Talking to Your Tween about Sexuality: A Guide for Parents

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familyIt’s common to feel nervous about talking to your children about sexuality. Many parents feel uncomfortable because they grew up in an environment where the subject wasn’t discussed, or because they worry that they won’t have the right answers. These are common feelings.

Why should you talk to your tween about sexuality?

It’s important that “tweens” (children aged 9-12) feel comfortable talking to their parents about sexuality, because research shows that children prefer to get information about sexuality from their parents. Research also shows that children who talk to their parents about sexuality are less likely to have early and unprotected sex. By talking to your tween about sexuality, you can help them develop values and healthy behaviors that may protect them from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and early pregnancy.

When should you begin talking to your tween about sexuality?

In general, you should start talking to your child about sexuality long before their body starts changing with puberty. For most children, the changes of puberty start by the age of 9 or 10. Remember that if your child is old enough to ask a question, then she/he is old enough to hear the correct answer and learn the accurate words for body parts.

What Your Tween Needs to Know about Sexuality

Remember that sexuality is a much larger topic than sexual intercourse. It also includes things such as gender, emotions, intimacy, caring, loving, flirtation, sexual orientation, and reproduction. Talking to your tween about sexuality is an opportunity to share your beliefs about healthy behavior and relationships with them.

Here are some things that tweens should know about…

…however it’s also important to use your discretion regarding how much information to share with young children. For example, you may decide to wait until your tween is 14-16 to discuss details of contraception/pregnancy/abortion/sexually transmitted disease, etc.

Puberty

  • The changes they can expect in their bodies before puberty
  • How normal developmental changes begin, and when these changes occur (for males and females)
  • Emotional changes during puberty
  • The facts about menstruation

Sexuality

  • Human sexuality is a natural part of life
  • How behavior can be seen as sexual and how to deal with sexual behavior
  • Healthy sexual relationships are built on trust and respect; saying NO is okay

Reproduction

  • How babies are made and what behaviors are likely to lead to pregnancy
  • Having sex and having babies are serious choices
  • Having a child is a long-term responsibility and that every child deserves mature, responsible, loving parents

Contraception/Pregnancy/Abortion

  • Prevention of pregnancy, including decision not to have sex
  • Contraceptives (birth control methods)
  • Pregnancy and abortion

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

  • Types of STIs
  • How a person gets STIs, including oral sex
  • How a person can protect themselves from STIs
  • How STIs are treated

Abuse/Risky Situations

  • How to recognize and protect themselves against potential sexual abuse
  • How to deal with peer pressure and get out of risky situations

How to Talk to Your Tween

Talking to tweens about sexuality begins with a foundation of good communication. Your preteen will feel more comfortable asking you questions about sexuality if they have been able to ask you other difficult questions while growing up. Make yourself an “askable” parent (someone who is easy to talk to) and they will learn to trust that they can approach you about topics such as sexuality later on.

Before talking with your tween, you can prepare by:

  • Learning and using the proper names for body parts and functions.
  • Getting facts from reliable sources of information.
  • Thinking through your own feelings and values about love and sex (and then sharing them with your tween in your conversations)
  • Finding out what your child already knows (or thinks she knows).

Tips on how to talk to your tween about sexuality:

  • Make the discussion about sexuality an ongoing conversation. Use everyday events to talk and take advantage of teachable moments.
  • Use a friend’s pregnancy, a news article, or a TV show to start a conversation.
  • Be approachable. Reassure your child that she can talk to you about anything.
  • Listen more than you speak. Talk with, not at, your child.
  • Don’t worry about seeming out of touch or being embarrassed.

Tips on how to answer questions:

  • Don’t make a big deal of your child’s questions. Let sexuality be a normal topic of conversation.
  • Understand the question before answering. Repeat the question and then ask your child if that’s what she meant.
  • Answer simply and directly. Give short, honest, factual answers. If possible, answer questions when they are asked, even if you need to do it quietly in a public place. If this isn’t possible, say something such as, “I’m glad you asked, let’s talk about it on the way home”.
  • It’s OK to miss some of the answers. Simply say you don’t know the answer, and then suggest that you find out together, or do the homework yourself and get back to your child.
  • It’s OK to refuse to answer personal questions. You can tell your child that things that happen between you and your partner are private.
If your child feels more comfortable talking to someone else, work together to think of other trusted adults she can talk with.