Last year, we invited Sexual Counselling Psychologist, Sarah Calleja, to speak at one of our All About Girls parenting seminars about how to foster sexual intelligence in our daughters. She helped parents to navigate the minefield of sexual issues and challenges confronting girls today. We received great feedback from parents about how helpful this seminar was so we have decided to revisit this topic and explore what else the experts are saying.

The concern for many parents is when to share information and how much to share. With older children, some parents are concerned that discussing sex somehow gives them a green light to have it. Sarah endorsed a very positive, open approach to talking about sex with children. She maintained that learning about sexuality is a normal part of development, and talking to them in an honest, age-appropriate way is the best strategy. But what is age-appropriate?

It is important for children to be able to talk to their parents about sex. The key element, and sometimes the tricky part, is to keep the conversations comfortable. This teaches children that there is nothing shameful about sex.

“It can sometimes be a little surprising when your child asks you a question about sexuality. But instead of asking, ‘Why are you asking?’ or brushing off the subject by saying, ‘We’ll talk about this when you’re older’, try saying, ‘I’m so glad you asked me that’. Be happy that your child feels comfortable enough to talk to you about sexuality issues.

“Find out what they already know about the topic you’re discussing. Although your daughter’s crush might seem silly to you, it’s very important to her. Your willingness to listen during the primary school years sets the stage for when your child is an adolescent and has to make decisions about dating and sexual relationships.” (Haffner & Needlman, 2015)

Dr Petra Boynton, a social psychologist specialising in sex and relationships research, says, “There is no ‘perfect’ way tackle this topic… Being aware of youth culture and talking to other parents should reduce your anxieties about what is ‘normal’ for children and teens to talk about.” (2013)

One of Sarah’s key messages was to ensure parents talk about the positives of sexual relationships as well as the dangers.  

“Talk about the joys of sexuality. It is so easy, when talking about sexuality with children, to focus on the negative consequences of unprotected sexual activity. This is especially true when they’re teenagers. But your child also deserves to know that their sexuality is a wonderful gift, and that expressing sexual feelings in a responsible manner can be a vital and rewarding part of an adult relationship.” (Haffner & Needlman, 2015)

The internet has the potential to be a minefield of sexually explicit content, and it can be a scary place for parents to allow their children to roam. Medical practitioner, Dr Carolyn Ross, says, "Early exposure to sexual content in the media may have a profound impact on children’s values, attitudes and behaviors toward sex and relationships. Unfortunately, media portrayals do not always reflect the message parents want to send." (2012)

Ross presents key ways that parents can combat these risks:

  • Know what your children are watching, playing and listening to and take advantage of teachable moments to discuss any inappropriate content or behaviors with them.
  • Set and enforce limits around screen time.
  • Make use of Internet filters and parental controls (link is external).
  • Share your family’s values and expectations regarding sex and relationships.
  • Talk to your child about media representations of sex, relationships and gender roles and teach them to question the accuracy and intent of the messages they receive.
  • Model healthy, respectful relationships and self-worth.

Every child is different and the best judge of what they are ready to discuss is their parents. However, by helping them to navigate what they are already being exposed to, and being an open and honest support network for them to have their questions answered, you are providing a safe foundation for their sexual intelligence.  

Here are 6 tips on talking to your child about sex from Mental Health Care author, Stacy York (2015):

1. Establish trust. Kids do not want to talk to people who are just going to lecture them or tell them what not to do. Spend time listening to your kids’ life and what’s happening in it before you have 'the talk.'

2. Gauge maturity. The talk you have with them depends on their emotional age. You definitely are not going to go into a detailed discussion about sexual intercourse with a kindergartner. However, you can have a chat about boundaries and private parts.

3. Open the door. Give them permission to come to you with any questions, comments, or thoughts. Open the door for communication. If your kids know that they are not going to get in trouble if they come to talk with you about a tough topic, they will be more willing to come to you with their problems. Freak out after they leave the room.

4. Make the first move. Do not expect them to make the first move. Kids do not wake up thinking, “How can I connect to my parents today?” That’s your job. Go to them and open the discussion with, “Hey, I want to have the talk with you about sex. Let’s chat tonight after dinner.” When you start the chat, ask if they have questions. Answer those questions. Then, give them facts. Before you finish the discussion, leave the door open, “I want you to know, you can come to me anytime with any question. I want you to have accurate information and to be safe".

5. Laugh. Expect humor to happen. Sex is a funny topic. Even as adults, we make sexual comments and innuendos. Your kids are doing this at school too. There will be joking and laughing. That’s okay! Laughter actually releases stress and will help you get through this discussion comfortably.

6. Teach limits. Teach them about self-respect and respecting others. In a world where kids are connected to technology as infants, many mixed messages are thrown at their impressionable brains. Discuss what is and isn’t acceptable in relationships. 'The talk' is just as much about the relationship with ourselves as it is about having a sexual relationship with someone else.

Remember, you are not alone, as a school we are here to support our families. If you would like to have a confidential discussion with our School Psychologist, Lara Silkoff, please contact lsilkoff@mentonegirls.vic.edu.au

Dr Sarah Calleja also has an app called Parents, Tweens and Sex for parents to use as an additional resource.

References
Boynton, P. 2013. How to talk about the 'birds and bees' with your child in the 21st century. The Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/10291383/Sex-education-How-to-talk-about-the-birds-and-bees-with-your-child-in-the-21st-century.html

Haffner, D & Needlman, R. 2015. Talking with children about sexuality: nine tips. Raising Children. http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/tips_for_talking_with_children_about_sexuality.html

Ross, C. 2012. Overexposed and Under-Prepared: The Effects of Early Exposure to Sexual Content. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-healing/201208/overexposed-and-under-prepared-the-effects-early-exposure-sexual-content

York, S. 2015. How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Kids. World of Psychology. 

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