How should you tell your kids about sex? How much is too much for them to handle? These are some of the questions that boggle our minds as parents. The thing is, every child is different and there isn’t one right way to have ‘the talk’ with a child but we’ve put together this age by age guide to help you start somewhere. One important thing to know is that sex education isn’t just about instilling fear into these young hearts. In fact, “abstinence-only education” isn’t really education. It’s usually more of manipulating a child into obeying by scaring them with rationalizations and half-truths. Parents tend to spend the whole time only talking about the dangers of being sexually active, ignoring the fact that children will make a choice regardless. What’s important is to help them make informed choices; they need to be empowered to make the right decisions. Yes, it’s hard to stay open and honest when having these discussions but it’s really the way to go.
Real sex education is teaching your child all they need to know about their developing bodies, their emotions, sexuality and healthy intimacy. Yes, let them know the emotional and physical consequences that come with being sexually active. Talk about practicing safe sex to avoid unwanted pregnancies or STIs but while you’re at it, don’t be afraid or ashamed to talk about the joys and pleasures too. Let them know how beautiful sex can be, especially in loving, committed relationships. Of course such discussions need to be age appropriate and you can always start off with the basics.
0 – 2 years
Start with making sure you use the proper names for genitals whenever you refer to them. While it’s okay to use cute euphemisms for body parts, kids need to know the correct names for each part. Vagina, penis, testicles, nipples, vulva and the likes are all terms every child should know and use. You can also start talking to your little one boundaries and and what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to touching or being touched.
2 – 5 years
Children in this age range should be learning all about boundaries when relating with others. Let them know that they have a say over their own bodies and no one should ever ask or try to touch their genitals for any reason. Try not to shame your child but make them feel safe enough to come to you and talk to you about anything at all. Some kids in this age range might also be curious about ‘how babies are made’. There’s nothing wrong with explaining the process to your child but the amount of detail you go into should depend on how much you feel your child can take in.
6 – 8 years
At this age, your child needs to know a lot more about sexual abuse. It’s a sad reality, but kids have to learn to protect themselves too as you can’t always be around to watch over all that goes on around them. Again, the amount of details you would want to get into depends on how much you feel your child can take in. You want to wait till they are older if the details seems to upset them. Just be sure to go over the basics.
Some children in this age range might start to get some signs of early puberty which is a a great conversation starter in sex education. Talk to them about the changes in their body and let them ask questions. Introducing good age appropriate books about male and female puberty might also make your job a little easier. Remember to only get into details you feel is just enough for your child. You can leave more detailed puberty talks for when your child or people in their peer groups actual puberty.
It is also important to talk more on sexual abuse at this age. Abuse can happen both online and in the real world, children need to know this. Children this age should definitely not be using the internet unsupervised but they still need to understand the dangers of using the internet at this age. Talk to them about talking to strangers and sharing online, let them know they can come to you immediately they encounter anything that makes them uncomfortable on the internet and even in the real world. This is also a great time to explain the basics of pornography to them. They need to know most importantly that there are content on the internet that are just for adults.
9 – 12 years
Children this age deal with a lot of physical, emotional and social changes. It’s important we always reassure them that the changes are a normal part of growth. Let them ask questions and tell you about anything that might be bothering their minds about puberty. Again, be careful not to shame your child or make them feel too conscious about the changes on their body.
Children in this age group typically get a bit more freedom on the internet so you might want to intensify the talk about internet safety. Your child should know that engaging in anything sexual online like sharing naked photos or other explicit content can cause big problems for them. Always take the time to go over the best ways to conduct themselves online. If possible, keep kids this age off all social media platforms or messaging apps.
As your child begins to near their teenage years, it might be time to teach them about safe sex. While no parent would want to believe their tween children will get involved in any sexual activity with their peers, it is still important they learn about safe sex practices.
“Talking with your kids about sex and sexuality early in life really pays off once they’ve hit their teens. If you’ve established yourself as open to discussing those topics, “your kids are probably going to feel more comfortable talking to you and asking you questions.”
Now is when to talk a lot more about consent in sexual relationships. You might also want to use this channel to educate your kids about avoiding alcohol or doing drugs as this could affect their judgement. They should also beware of taking open drinks from anyone because they could be spiked.
“You want to empower your child to be able to evaluate risks and make good decisions. “Helping kids understand that they have a gut, an inner voice, and they can and should listen to it, is a big part of what sex education is about. And by discussing the right topics at the right ages, you’re setting your child up to do just that.”