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Having "The Talk" With Someone Else's Child

It’s awkward enough when your own child starts asking you about the birds and the bees. It’s much, much trickier when someone else’s kid does. Motherlode runs a guest essay this week on how not to handle this particular social pitfall.

Essayist Delia Lloyd writes about her honest, awkward conversation with her son’s 9-year-old school friend. A conversation that covered everything from the basics of human reproduction to whether or not prostitutes can look for work on job boards.

It’s tempting to say that Delia did nothing wrong: this kid was 9 years old, and hungry for information that the adults in his life were withholding. Most sex education experts agree that 9 is pretty late to be starting these conversations with your kids, and a responsible adult is a better person for them to get the information from than a peer on the playground.

But the social norm is to let parents decide when kids learn about sex, and what they learn. Is there a place for vigilante sex ed, or did Delia cross a line?

We’ve probably all been in Delia’s shoes, when a child pops out an in appropriate question. These are the “Go ask your mother” moments. I break out that phrase when a kid other than my own asks me a question about sex, religion, death or politics. But should I?

I remember my own childhood, and how awkward these conversations were with my mother. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about these things with adults we trust who don’t have power over us.

If I were to make up guidelines for talking to someone else’s child, I’d probably suggest:

  • Don’t undermine the parents. If a kid says, “My parents won’t talk to me about this,” that probably means they won’t thank you for going there either.
  • Suggest resources rather than giving direct information. Pointing a kid at a quality website or YouTube clip seems innocuous enough.
  • Offer to bring the topic up wit the child’s parents. In a case where a kid is saying, “I need the answer to this question, and I’m afraid to ask,” maybe the best thing to do is to offer to help the kid talk to his parents about it?
  • Consider the vigilante move of just telling them. Sure, it’s rude and unlikely to win you a lot of friends. But if a kid is in the dark about an important topic and is asking you for information, there are worse things you could do than fork it over. Like, for example, refusing to talk and having him go get false information elsewhere, or just experimenting till someone gets hurt.

What do you do when other people’s kids ask you awkward questions?

Photo: JackVinson

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