This article first appeared in the June 2006 issue of Smart Parenting magazine
As children grow older, they become more conscious of their bodies and their sexuality. They are more exposed to the media, the Internet, and their peers. At this stage, there is now a greater chance that the comfort bubble will burst and when that happens, the real probing about sex begins. And almost always, the parents are the ones put in the line of fire. So, how should parents deal with the inevitable issue of sex?
Jojo Gaviola, brand manager in a leading pharmaceutical company and father to a 10-year-old girl, says that his daughter has already asked the big question several times. In those instances when his daughter would ask where she came from, his response would be “from your Mom’s tummy because of the love between Mom and Dad.” Perhaps, because of our very strong Christian foundation, this seems to be the most acceptable answer. Somehow, the thought of sex being a normal part of “the love between daddy and mommy” seems to provide a comfort zone for the kids.
Timing Your Talk Dr. Royce Mangubat, a pediatrician, says that the best time to talk to kids about sex is right before puberty, or what some might call the “tweenies” stage (eight to 12 years old). Discussing sex with kids at this time will not come as a surprise since they’re starting to have secondary sex characteristics like pubic hair, menses in girls, and lowering of voices in boys.
In her book Talking to Tweenies: Getting It Right Before It Gets Rocky with Your 8-to 12-Year-Old, Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer writes, “These in-between years are significant as the time children increase their sexual awareness… The danger is they are being confronted with a glut of images and information before they are ready to absorb and comprehend it… If we accept that our most important role as a parent or a carer of a tweenie is to help them to understand their world and be confident about growing up, we should check regularly whether they feel comfortable with what they hear and see in relation to sex. If they are not, we should find ways to put them at ease.”
Nix the Malice Whether we like it or not, the ultimate responsibility to educate children about sex lies on the parents. If a parent is not comfortable about the idea of sex itself, then this may create a problem on how the kid perceives it later in life.
Matec Villanueva, senior executive officer of a top advertising agency, says that the first step is to treat sex without malice. Hartley-Brewer also discusses in her book that “evidence from Europe suggests that when parents talk openly and fully to their children about sex, the first sexual experience is delayed, sex is more likely to be viewed as part of a relationship and the emerging adult is more likely to take appropriate responsibility.”
School as a Tool While introducing kids to the idea of sex seems like a huge responsibility, parents can initiate talks with the academic panel and the guidance counselor’s office to ensure that the second source of information, next to them, is the school. The child’s understanding of sex should be a shared responsibility between the parents (and family) and the school so he grows into a healthy and well-informed adult.
Gomez furthers that the schools’ main focus about sex (and sexuality) is to teach kids the anatomical framework (parts of the reproductive system and mechanics of reproduction). It is at home, through the parents, that they should be taught more clearly about the moral framework and the positive values related to sex.
Here are some things to remember when discussing the concept of sex with your child:
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1. Discuss what inner beauty is with your child. Instill in your child's mind that inner beauty is the true measure of one's personality. Do not encourage your child to dwell on physical, external characteristics to gain approval and acceptance from family members and friends.
2. Be involved with your children's choices While it is true that kids, especially those about to enter puberty or have just stepped into that stage, are beginning to exercise a little independence, make them realize that you still have a say in their decision. After all, they are not grown up adults yet.
3. Let them know they have control. When kids start asking question about their bodies, emphasize that they have the primary responsibility over their bodies. Thus, they have the right to protect their bodies, keep them clean, and ensure that nobody -— not even their closest and most trusted friends —- can “touch” them.
4. Watch your words. And those of other people in the household as well. Ask older members of the family to be careful about their language when the younger kids are around.
5. Deal with questions properly. When kids start asking about sex, do not blush, get mad, or brush them off. Instead, have a chat with them. Welcome their questions and use your wisdom when answering them. Nobody knows your child more than you do.
Years ago, it may have been taboo for parents to mention sex to their children. But as values evolve and the world becomes increasingly candid about sensitive subjects like sex, parents must employ stronger responsibility over the kind of information their children are exposed to -— and sometimes, being responsible means talking to them with complete sincerity and openness. Besides, isn’t it comforting to know that you as a parent have the power to mold your children’s beliefs in sex, and that these beliefs will eventually build the moral fiber that will rightly guide them in today's highly “sexualized” environment?