The Birds and the Bees
When to have ‘the talk’ with your kids
There comes a time in life when every parent has to have ‘the talk’ with their kid. As awkward as it can get, it’s vital that kids learn about the realities of their bodies. Who else is better to explain than their parents?
There is no need to get all flustered over the idea of teaching kids about sex and sexuality. The best time to start is in their preschool years. Here’s a guide to how to talk about the birds and the bees with your children, age by age.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO HAVE ‘THE TALK’?
In today’s rampant world of misinformation, the last thing we need is for our children to adopt false notions of sex. Their friends might not be the best crowd to seek advice from, and the media is notorious for portraying dramatised versions of sex.
Hence, it is crucial to create an open line of communication between you and your child. A 2009 research review by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) reported that sexual education can influence behaviours among students, resulting in more than a third of delayed sexual activity as well as an increase in the use of condoms or contraceptives.
BABIES AND TODDLERS (Ages 0-2)
You may notice that your toddler often touches his or her private parts. This behaviour is actually normal. They may do this out of curiosity, however, it’s not a pretty sight in public.
Instead of scolding or punishing them, redirect their attention elsewhere. Tell them that there’s a time and a place for it, not in front of strangers at the mall.
PRESCHOOLERS (Ages 3-5)
At this age, establish a clear understanding of consent. Use the word ‘consent’ and explain that it means ‘yes’ or agreeing to someone using their things or touching their bodies.
Practice asking for consent yourself before taking their things, picking them up, or even before tickling them. This is important to teach children at this age about respecting not only themselves but others as well.
In addition to consent, safe touch is also vital to know at this age. One method you could try is the swimsuit rule. The covered areas and mouth are off-limits to those who don’t have the child’s consent.
No means no. Stress the importance of their ‘no’. If anything untoward happens, your child must inform you about it. Reassure them that it’s not their fault and that keeping such things secret is not going to stop the perpetrator. So that in light of a sexual abuse incident, your children will be able to do the right thing.
BIG KIDS (Ages 6-8)
It’s about time parents kept up with what their kids are watching online. One common feature on many browsing sites and television packages is parental control. You can filter through the content your kids are exposed to and ensure they aren’t subscribing to improper channels.
Nevertheless, the vast realm of technology isn’t always within our control. So, if your kid comes across a word with asterisks in it or an advertisement for pornographic content, don’t panic. Make them understand that these sites are strictly for adults.
Kids are also prone to becoming victims of sexual grooming online. A few simple searches can reveal that several content creators have been preying on vulnerable young kids with ill intentions.
So, make it clear to your children about predators. They don’t come in bright-coloured shoes or wacky hairstyles. Often their approach is subtle, like that of a trustworthy adult who’s just trying to be ‘friends’.
These predators may offer children gifts, ask to see or touch their genitals or talk to them about sexual topics. Be honest with your children about these realities. Maintain an open relationship with your kids and ask them if they know anyone like that in real life or online.
TWEENS (Ages 9-12)
Having the ‘sex talk’ shouldn’t be a matter to procrastinate on. If your child hasn’t already asked you questions about sex or their body parts, don’t wait. Once they reach their preteen years, initiate the conversation.
They may be confused and overwhelmed at this point in their lives. So take it slow and start off with little conversations to ease the topic onto them. In their adolescence, your child is going through puberty, and we all know just how dramatically the body can change.
Girls: Puberty starts between ages 9 and 13.
Talk to your daughter about menstruation before she gets her period. Show her how to use a sanitary pad or tampon.
Boys: Puberty begins between ages 10 and 13.
Talk to your son about his first ejaculation. Explain that the testes and scrotum will enlarge, and pubic hair will soon emerge.
It’s always helpful to listen and relate to your teens. Remind them that everyone’s journey is unique. Sharing a personal experience shows them that it’s okay to have an open and honest conversation with you.
TEENS (Ages 13+)
There are more than physical changes in sex and sexuality. Don’t be afraid to emotionally connect with your children.
Ask them about their views on sexism, healthy relationships and dating. Children are said to be sponges who absorb from their surroundings. This can be a chance for you and your partner to evaluate your relationship as parents and spouses too.
Discuss peer pressure and ask them questions about the kind of friends they hang out with. The language of teens is rebellion. They would have had long-developed crushes and may even have entered into their first relationship. Like every teen, they won’t be opening up to their parents that easily.
So, the trick here is allowing them to speak and you do the listening. Emphasise to them about retaining their self-worth and why consent is mandatory, and that it goes both ways.
USE APPROPRIATE LANGAUGE
When describing reproductive acts and body parts, speak factually and use the correct names. Young children tend to be very literal. If you’re feeling too awkward yourself, inject some humour but make sure not to overdo it. Sex education can be fun, but it shouldn’t be sugar coated.
Take a look at this guide and try it out with your kid.
|Age (years)||Level of understanding||How to approach|
|3 to 5||Names of private body parts. A simple explanation of where babies come from.||“You grew inside Mom’s uterus until you were big enough to come out.”|
|5 to 7||Starts asking how babies are made. Basic understanding of intercourse.||“Mom has a small egg inside her and Dad has something called sperm. When these two join together, the egg grows into a baby.”|
|8 to 10||A clearer understanding of sex which may lead to: Why do people have sex? How does Dad’s sperm find Mom’s egg?||“The penis is inserted into the vagina, where it deposits the sperm. The sperm has a tail, which allows them to swim toward the egg.”|
|11 to 12||The start of puberty increased curiosity about the body and body changes.||“Sex without consent is rape. It is wrong and should never be allowed.”|
WHAT QUESTIONS CAN I EXPECT?
Children can be quite unpredictable, so here are a few questions to prepare yourself with. When the time comes, you’ll know exactly what to say:
- Where do babies come from?
- Why do I have breasts? When will they get bigger?
- Why do I have hair down there?
- Why haven’t I gotten my period yet?
- Why don’t boys have a period?
WHAT IF I CAN’T ANSWER A QUESTION?
Let’s face it, sometimes we just don’t know everything. If your kid has left you with a tricky question or complicated matter, don’t brush it off. Admit that there is a lot to learn about the topic. Then, get professional help.
Go to a paediatrician or a family counsellor who can talk to your kid directly. Some children may feel embarrassed to clear off personal doubts or feel insecure about their physical appearance. In that case, a qualified third party may need to sit at the table.
Alternatively, you may introduce your kid to age-appropriate books or sites that approach sex and sexuality themes well. Who knows, you may learn a thing or two.
WHAT THE FIGURES HAVE TO SAY…
According to the Public Health’s National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS): Adolescent Health Survey (AHS) 2022 which looked at 33,523 students aged 13 to 17 years old:
- 33% of youth had sex before the age of 14 years old.
- 88% are found not using any birth control method.
- 88% are found not using condoms.
- 11% reported having more than one sexual partner.
- 75% reported having sex recently.
The above statistics further prove the need for proper sex education as soon as possible, and education begins at home. Engaging in the ‘sex talk’ can be an emotional experience for parents too. So be kind to yourself and enjoy the process.
Sources: Healthline, The Asian Parent, Positive Parenting Malaysia