Teaching kids about sex

February 12, 2008 6:20:32 PM PST
Parents this is designed especially for you. A very adult conversation you need to have with your kids. It's a conversation that most parents dread. Do you know what's really on your child's mind, when it comes to sex? We went inside a fifth grade class to get some answers.

Resources for parents:

    1. You are the primary sexuality educators of your children. Children want to talk about sexuality with their parents and they want to hear your values. It is not just a parent's right, it is their responsibility. Your children need to hear your point of view. Children often want to hear about your growing up. They want to hear stories about your youth and how you dealt with issues. This can often help them with their own struggles.

    2. Be an "askable parent." Reward questions. It is never a good idea to tell children that they need to wait until they are older before you will answer their questions. When children ask a question, you have a chance to help them learn. Reward the question with, "I'm glad you came to me with that question" even before you start to respond to what was asked. It will teach them to come back to you in the future when they have other questions. If you don't know an answer, tell your child you will look it up and tell them later. Be sure you follow through. You might want to go to the library and look up the answer together.

    3. Find "teachable moments." They offer a chance to teach your children what you know or believe about sexuality. You can even make use of a TV program that you believe sends the wrong message. Turn it around and say "I think that program sends the wrong message. I want to tell you what I believe and why."

    4. You don't need to wait until they ask a question. Many children never ask questions. When our children were young, we didn't wait until they asked about whether they should look both ways before crossing a busy street, or whether they could touch a hot stove. Some things are essential for them to know. It is the job of adults - and especially of parents - to teach our children how to get along in the world. Learning about sexuality is the same. You need to decide what is important for children to know, and then tell them before a crisis arrives. A good time to start might be after a TV show or news broadcast that deals with a sexual topic.

    5. It is OK to feel uncomfortable; relax. Very few adults have had a formal course in sexuality, and it is hard for many adults to talk about sexual matters. You can let them know that you are uncomfortable, but you will talk to them anyway because you love them and want to help them. Remember, just because children ask questions about sexual behavior doesn't mean they plan to begin having sexual relations. It is also okay for parents to set limits. You do not need to give specific answers to questions about your own sexual behavior.

    6. Be sure to talk about the joys of sexuality. This might include telling them that sexuality is natural and healthy, that loving relationships are often the best part of life, and that intimacy can be a wonderful part of adult life.

    7. Listen, listen, listen. When a child asks a question, thank them for asking and ask them why they want to know or what they already know. That may help you prepare your answer.

    8. Facts are not enough. In addition to sharing facts and thoughts, do share your feelings, values and beliefs. Then, tell your child why you feel that way. Pre-teens and teenagers seem to reject their parents' values - especially when they feel their parents want to impose their point of view on the child with "because I say so!". Most of us have very good reasons behind our beliefs. Teaching our children the "why" behind our values teaches them to think. Children also need help in seeing the difference between thoughts, feelings and actions. Parents can help children understand that while it is normal to have all kinds of sexual thoughts and feelings, they are in charge of their own behavior, and they do not have to act upon their thoughts and feelings.

    9. Know what is being taught about sexuality in your schools, churches, temples and youth groups. Urge these groups to include sexuality education in their programs. While young people often joke, tease and talk about sexuality by themselves, it is more helpful when trained adults lead those talks.

    10. When you talk with your children about sexuality, you are telling them that you care about their happiness and well-being. You are also sharing your values. This can be one of the real joys of parenthood. Be aware of the "question behind the question." The unspoken question "Am I normal?" is often hiding behind many questions about sexual development, sexual thoughts and sexual feelings. On the surface, these questions may sound like "What is the oldest (or youngest) that a girl got her period?" or "Can a flat-chested girl nurse a baby?" or "Do some guys never get wet dreams?" Behind each of these questions (and hundreds more) is the unspoken question, "Am I normal?" Reassure your children as often as possible.

About Ivy Chen:
Ivy Chen is a sexuality health educator, and has been working with Bay Area communities for the last twelve years. She teaches students ranging from the 4th grade through college age, as well as parent groups, community based organizations, teachers, and other health professionals. Topics covered in her workshops include puberty, healthy relationships, body image, peer and partner pressure, media influence, sexual decision making, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, birth control, and increasing communication about sexuality within families. She tailors each presentation to the specific group served, and ensures that all materials are accurate and age-appropriate. She encourages participation and feedback from her audience. Overall, she strives to make learning important information about sensitive topics as accessible, comfortable and fun as possible.

Ivy received her BA from UC Berkeley in integrative biology with a minor in women's studies in 1996. She received her Master in public health with an emphasis in health and social behaviors, also from UC Berkeley, in 2001.

Ivy presently works as an independently contracted health educator. She currently works as a lecturer for the health education, human sexuality and psychology departments at San Francisco State University.