What are the three most common mistakes parents make when talking to their kids about reproduction?
Expert: Amy Lang, MA is a mother, blogger, educator and author of Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids: A Guide to Clarifying Your Values on Sexuality, Love, and Relationships.
1. Starting too late.
We really need to start these conversations from birth: parents should start by using anatomically correct names for body parts to demystify the body so that it’s not secret and shameful. By the time they’re in kindergarten, kids really should know the basics of baby making: how the baby gets in there, including saying “the penis goes in the vagina,” about the sperm and the egg, the changes of pregnancy, and about birth.
It seems really young, but we’re thinking about it from an adult perspective. We know about all the yucky stuff and all the great stuff and we think, “Oh my god, I’m going to tell my really young kid about that!” But that’s not what I’m saying. We start really basic, with the facts and science about how this whole thing works, and then build on that conversation as kids get older. Little kids don’t have a frame of reference like we do. They’re going to learn about reproduction like they learn about volcanoes or ponies or whatever else they’re interested in; they don’t have all the shame, embarrassment, and baggage that we do. When you’re talking, they should hear the words: “This is not something kids do. It’s for when you’re older. Kids’ bodies aren’t ready for this kind of thing.”
2. Waiting for the right moment.
What really works best for kids is to have consistent conversations throughout childhood and adolescence. The conversations are short and sweet. It’s not a sit down, drag-out, two-hour long conversation about sex at age ten. Because they aren’t going to listen, plus it’s exhausting for the parent, and it’s not effective. They’ll tune out, especially when they’re hitting those tween years. Just bring it up; Bring up pop culture references as teachable moments. Parents will think, “I feel so weird and awkward bringing this up,” but the goal is that it gets talked about a lot in their family. It’s a regular part of their family culture so the kids come to expect it. It’s not a surprise. It may be annoying, but parents just need to think that it’s part of their job. Then kids know their parents are a resource for them.
3. Assuming we don’t have any influence.
Parents think their kids aren’t listening, but that simply isn’t true. There’s a study done every couple of years by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that asks kids “Who is your primary influence when it comes to making decisions about dating, relationships and sex?” Over 50% of kids say their parents are their primary influence. What that means is that they’re listening to us, they need to hear from us, and we’ve got power in this. If we want our kids to avoid getting pregnant before they’re ready, to avoid contracting STDs, and if we want our kids to be in healthy, fabulous relationships, we have got to talk to them.
We mightthink that providing information is the same as giving permission, but kids who have information make better decisions. They’re going to have sex at some point, no matter what we do, so we can either set them up to make great decisions or we can leave them to their own devices. In this day and age, when one in four teenage girls has an STD, when the HIV rate has increased among young people and the teen pregnancy rate has increased, it doesn’t make sense to not provide them with information.
As told to Emily Frost.