I never thought to tell my toddlers not to put a big magnet against the TV screen. The green and purple spot on the TV screen is a permanent reminder of the warning that I never gave. They are now 11, 12 and 13 years old. The harm they could do or have happen to them has ramped up remarkably. I feel that I’ve entered an awkward stage right along with them. I’m fretting about how to continue to talk with them about puberty and sex.
I want them to have a healthy mental and physical approach to sexual thoughts, drives and actions. And, I don’t want to scare them. And, I don’t want to bring up topics they are not ready for. And, I don’t want to get into a discussion that I’m not ready for. And, I don’t want to sacrifice my image of “cool mom” (as unstable as that may be). And, I want my husband to do it all. That isn’t going to happen. For anyone who feels the same, the following is a summary of recent advice I’ve found both encouraging and useful:
I’ve been told it is difficult for a child to maintain eye contact when talking with an adult, particularly a parent, about sex. That’s why it is good to have conversations with your child while you are driving the car. In the car a child doesn’t have to give you eye contact. It takes some pressure off. The car is private. You can take a slight detour if you get on a topic that deserves more time than it takes to get to your next destination.
It may take a village to raise a child but one visit to the mall brings up sex. My kids have seen sexual innuendo since their strollers passed by the windows of Victoria’s Secret, the welcoming posters at Abercrombie & Fitch and when I parked them in front of the magazines at Barnes & Noble. Embrace the opportunity. Talk about what you see, hear and read. (I was surprised that even the songs from the mall’s sound system provided us with lively discussion on the car ride home.)
Laughter is known to reduce anxiety and stress so that’s why kids, and adults, often make jokes and act silly when talking about sex. When you talk about sex with your kids, it’s fine to do it with a smile but keep it serious. Kids need parents to be straight with them – they’ll hear the jokes from their peers. If your child detects your discomfort you might find the conversation cut short with few or no questions. You can’t, and shouldn’t try to, cover everything in one conversation. Kids will say and hear all kinds of things when talking with friends. Don’t fight that. The key is to create comfort so they will bring back what they hear for discussion.
I asked teachers who lead the puberty and sex education units that begin in 4th or 5th grade and go through high school what one thing they wish all parents would do. The answer: Use anatomically correct words for all the body parts. We call an “elbow” an “elbow.” They are “breasts” not “boobs.” It is a “penis” not a “willy” or any other cute or clever name. Using universally accepted language displays your confidence, helps your child get accurate information and encourages them to handle the subject with respect.
Another important thing I learned from the healthcare education pros: take inventory of what you need to know. Did you know that testicular cancer occurs as early as age 15? I didn’t. It’s relatively rare but it is the most common form of cancer in young males. And, there’s a self-exam for that. Those two people sitting in a bathtub on a mountain surely will cause someone to ask what erectile dysfunction is. Can you answer why some people get “gentle herbies”? (The result of a miscommunication about “genital herpes.”) Did you talk with your sons about menstruation and to your daughters about nocturnal emissions or did someone else talk with them first? Is that other person a trusted source for future information? Is that okay with you?
If I had the chance to do it over again, I’d worry less about giving too much information at any age. Too much accurate information is better than misinformation. Today I will begin by taking more time to answer questions instead of giving a reply on the fly. Today I will remember that it is not only about avoiding STDs, HIV or getting pregnant. It’s also about the pleasure and intimacy that sex brings when you are physically and mentally mature enough to manage the territory. And, it is a broad landscape to successfully maneuver. That’s what I want my sons to remember.
You might not get the questions, the gratitude or any glory but being a mom is often more about what you give than what you get. This is no different. I’m facing my fear so my kids don’t have to face anything worse. I want my sons to look forward to being the whole adult that each of them will become – hopefully without any regrettable consequences of the mistakes that either of us might make along the way.
Special thanks to Kirkwood School District’s Sheenah Coakley, Physical Education Teacher at Westchester Elementary School and Marla Drewel-Lynch, Health Education Teacher at North Kirkwood Middle School for talking with me about puberty and sex education and sharing the following resources:
Two books from the American Medical Association:
- Girl’s Guide to Becoming a Teen
- Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen
This is a book I personally found useful: Harmful to Minors – The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex by Judith Levine. I’ve seen newer books such as Talking to Teen Boys About Sex by John Motley but I’ve not read it. Are there any books or other resources that you think are worth checking out?
Expert Mommy, Diane Asyre is a professional writer and owns Asyre Communications.