Talking to Kids and Teens About Sex

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The Birds and the Bees by Developmental Stage

Strategies for connecting with kids about safer sex and boundaries

Discussing the topic of sex with your children is an important aspect of their overall education and development. As a parent, it’s crucial to approach these conversations with sensitivity, honesty, and age-appropriate information. By tailoring your approach to your child’s developmental stage, you can create a safe space for open dialogue about sex. In this blog post, we’ll provide you with guidance on how to talk about sex with children of different age groups.

  1. Early Childhood (Ages 3-7):

    During the early years, focus on teaching children about body autonomy, privacy, and appropriate touching. Use proper anatomical terms when discussing body parts to establish a foundation of comfort and understanding. Answer their questions about where babies come from in a simple and straightforward manner, emphasizing that these conversations are natural and something they can always talk to you about.

  2. Late Childhood and Pre-Adolescence (Ages 8-12):

    As your child matures, expand the conversation to include more detailed information about puberty, reproductive systems, and the changes their bodies will undergo. Address their curiosity about relationships and emotions, emphasizing the importance of healthy boundaries and mutual respect. Introduce topics like consent, online safety, and the potential consequences of early sexual activity.

  3. Early Teen Years (Ages 13-15):

    During this stage, your child’s understanding of relationships and attraction deepens. Discuss topics like consent, peer pressure, and the emotional aspects of relationships. Provide accurate information about contraception and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), stressing the importance of responsible choices. Encourage open communication and let them know that you are there to answer any questions they may have.

  4. Late Teen Years (Ages 16-18):

    As your child approaches adulthood, engage in conversations about more complex aspects of sex, such as the emotional connection in intimate relationships. Talk about healthy communication, self-respect, and setting boundaries. Address the importance of making informed decisions and the potential consequences of risky behaviors.

Tips from the Professionals:

  • Be sure that you have a private place to have these discussions, especially as kids get old enough to be embarrassed.
  • Be mindful of using fear as a motivator for good decisions. This usually backfires since it puts kids of all ages into a “fight-or-flight” mindset, which is not designed for working memory. For teens, it also gives them something else to rebel against.
  • Watch for how they are responding. One way to gauge this is by thinking of a traffic light:
    • Green Light: They are attentive and even ask questions.
    • Yellow/Orange Light: They are starting to seem a little uncomfortable. Squirming, avoiding eye contact, etc.
    • Red Light: They are clearly disengaged from the conversation. They may even ask, “Are we done?” or, “Can I go now?” You might also see them attempting to change the subject.
  • Be mindful of the conversation length. Younger kids will have far shorter attention spans. Try to shoot for short five-minute talks. Teenagers may give you 15-30 minutes . . . if you’re lucky. Remember, you can come back to these talks, but don’t overdo it.
  • Look for “teaching opportunities.” Perhaps sex comes up in a movie or TV show. You can try to slip in a quick lesson. Again, don’t overdo it.
  • And most important:

    • If they come to you with questions, stop what you are doing and answer them. Sometimes you cannot just stop (if you are cooking a meal or if you are working on a deadline, etc.) . . . In these cases, take a second and schedule a specific time that you would be happy to talk with them; ideally the same day. Bear in mind that by then they may have lost interest, or have gotten their question answered. Regardless, check in with them at the appointed time and see if they’ll tell you what they were wondering about anyway.

Talking to your children about sex presents different challenges at different ages and therefore requires a delicate balance of honesty, sensitivity, and age-appropriate information. Create an atmosphere of trust and open communication, where your child feels comfortable coming to you with their questions and concerns. Remember that your role as a parent is not just to provide information, but also to guide and support your child as they navigate the complexities of relationships and their own bodies. By fostering a safe space for conversations about sex, you can empower your child to make informed decisions and form healthy relationships as they grow.

*Updated on August 28, 2023

Learn more about Parenting and how to communicate effectively with your kids.

Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s has worked in the helping profession since he started college in 1990. After completing his Bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas, Austin in 1994, he attended the highly-regarded University of Minnesota to earn his Master’s degree in 1997. He is a Licensed Professional Counselor and is recognized as a Board Approved Supervisor by the State of Texas Board of Examiners of Professional Counselors. Jonathan has completed Level-2 of the Gottman Method of Couples Counseling, and in 1998 received training from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation in Advanced Critical Incident Stress Management & Debriefing. To learn more about Jonathan’s practice, click here: Jonathan F. Anderson, LPC-s.

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