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What Age Is Right for "The Talk"?

Yesterday Jezebel had a righteous go at a British MP who has expressed horror at the BBC’s sex ed program, which she says is like a “blue movie” a.k.a. “porn”.

Jezebel’s take-down of the MPs objections is hilarious and spot on. Of course a sex ed film should include pictures of naked bodies. This one also includes computer-generated characters getting it on, in a bit about how babies are conceived.

The film is part of the curriculum for 9-year-olds, though, which caused a bit of a stir among Jezebel’s commenters, some of whom seemed surprised that you’d need to talk to a pre-pubescent child about sex.

Hot tip: yes, you do. Waiting until your kid is old enough to procreate is way too late to begin talking about human sexuality.

So when should those discussions start?

Right away. Seriously. As soon as your child is self-aware, they begin to be curious about their own body and how they came into the world. That’s the time to begin talking about it, not after a decade of silence makes it a necessarily awkward topic.

A few tips work for having these talks with kids at any age:

  • Respect their limits.
  • Don’t shove a lot of information at a kid who isn’t ready for it.
  • Don’t obfuscate or lie to a kid who is asking questions.
  • Just give clear simple answers to what they’re asking.

This should be easy, right? Just tell them what they want to know.

As any parent who’s been blindsided by a 7-year-old asking about anal sex knows, it doesn’t always seem simple in practice.

I try to give my kids straight answers to their questions, and to make those answers age appropriate. I never push past their interest level, and I keep the details and detours to a minimum. My hope is that these conversations with my young kids will be comfortable enough that they’ll keep asking and listening as they grow older.

Roughly speaking, here are the kinds of things you want to talk with kids about at various ages:

Preschool: Preschoolers are curious about their own bodies, how they’ll change as they grow up, and how they got to be here. They want to know about birth and pregnancy, and about conception as part of their birth narratives. A good book for kids this age is Robie Harris’ It’s Not The Stork.

School Age Kids: Kids this age may want a little more information, or they may just want to leave the subject alone. It varies a lot by kid. The next book in Robie Harris’ series, It’s So Amazing, aims to satisfy young readers curiosity without overwhelming them. This is a great age to cover the basics of human sexuality.

Tweens and Teens: These kids need all the information. They need to know not just how babies are made but also how to take care of their growing and changing bodies, how to make safe responsible decisions about sex and how to feel good about themselves in a world filled with damaging media messages. There are a ton of good books and resources available for this age group. Whatever you choose, make sure to keep the dialog between you and your teen open, so they can ask you the hard questions.

How have you talked to your kids about the birds and the bees?

Photo: Romana Klee

More on Babble: I told my 5-year-old how babies are made

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