Okay, so my title is a trick of sorts.
What I really want to encourage is not talking to your kids just about sex. Talk to them as well about the larger context or story within which sex will fall – life, relationships, commitment, and their future.
Talking about sex with our children can be a scary thought. Not too long ago I had “the talk” with our son about “how babies are made.” I confess that it was possibly the most clumsy I have ever felt in a planned conversation.
The look on his face when I broke the nitty-gritty was something else, and both of us just broke out laughing! Not sure if that was a good thing, but it got the topic onto the table of what I hope will be an ongoing conversation over the next several years.
Where Do We Start?
The best place to start is at the beginning, and while there is no easy way to do it, there are some not -so-good ways to break the news. Below are a few things to consider regardless of where you are in this process.
- Don’t think of “the talk” as a talk, but an ongoing conversation over many years. It helps to start when they are toddlers on up, talking to them about their body, about what’s appropriate and having respect for their body and the privacy of others. This is a natural time to develop rapport with your child and develop a two-way comfort using vocabulary of body parts and such.
- Biology 101. At some point you’ll know it’s time to tell them where kids come from. The right age to do this is different for each child and each family. Generally speaking, in our culture today if you haven’t shared the news with them by 9-10 years old they’ve likely heard it already somewhere else. Note that this is a biology talk about how babies are made, not a sex talk.
- Sex. As the kids get older you’ll want to look for opportunities to discuss sex and dating. For years kids have heard all the talk about “safe sex,” but what about “smart” sex? Sex is never an isolated physical act, but something that affects two people for the rest of their lives. Take time to talk about your values and beliefs, and to ask your teen what they think. As awkward as these conversations may be, your teen is usually very interested and has lot’s of questions they would love to discuss with someone.
- Talk about Boundaries. We were all 17 once and that’s what scares us. We know that hormones didn’t come with very good brakes. The time to determine physical boundaries is before you are in the heat of the moment. Make a list of the physical progression of intimacy, starting with holding hands, kissing, french kissing, petting over the clothes, etc. Avoid the temptation of telling your child where they should stop. Instead, ask them where on that list do they think is a safe place to draw the line given their values and life/relationship goals. In the ensuing conversation there will be plenty an opportunity for you to share your thoughts .
- Consider a Dating Policy. While this may sound strict, it actually gives teens security and comfort. By “policy” I mean this: let your daughter or son know at what age you will allow her/him to date, and any requirements that will go with that. If you require that you meet a potential date, and at least one of his or her parents first, let that be known. It helps if your daughter/son know this policy by age 13, so that when they come home at 14 head-over-heels asking if they can go out with so-and-so, you don’t have to unload an unknown policy on them in the heat of puppy love. They’ll already know that they have to wait until 15, 16, or whatever it is you determine is best.
Ask Questions More Than You Lecture
The key if you want to have influence with your teen is this: ask questions and avoid lectures. This will open the doors to some truly wonderful conversations and the opportunity to share your heart and experience with them.
In my seminar “Raising Kids To Succeed In Marriage” parents often discuss their general desire to transfer decision making and responsibility to their children as they get older. It is noteworthy, however, that when it comes to dating parents often revert, pulling back the reins to more of a controlling approach, often based in fear. Yes, there is much we can fear if we let ourselves go there. That is why we need to take the earlier years to develop our children’s own ability to discern, to be their own wise gate-keepers.
In the end, if we are not talking to our kids about sex, and sex in the larger context of their life, values and future, then rest assured they while talk about it with someone else, or, not talk about it at all and wing it as it unfolds down the road.