My daughter is in the fifth grade and will be eleven years old in January. This is what I know —
- She is hearing incorrect information about sex and how babies are made during whispered conversations during recess.
- Some of her peers have seen explicit photos or videos on the internet.
- It is natural for preteens to be curious about their bodies and how they work.
I’ve talked with my daughter about her body for as long as I can remember. In age appropriate terms, we discuss privacy and respect and consent. We have since she was a toddler. She will not be surprised when she gets her period because she is aware of its purpose. And, to give it more gravitas, a couple of her friends already have made that step into puberty.
But until recently, I had not been able to sit down and have “the talk” with her. I just wanted to pretend it wasn’t necessary. Because having that information? It means that another piece of her childhood innocence would be gone. Selfishly, this huge bridge remained one that I did not want to cross. I realized, however, that if I want to establish open communication about sex and relationships as she progresses into her teenage years, I have to stay ahead of where I think we need to be.
We sat at our kitchen table one evening after her younger brother had gone to bed. I began by asking my daughter what she already knew about sex. I wanted to start the conversation where she was and let her lead our talk at her comfort level. She began reluctantly and then more openly shared. I filled in some gaps and corrected some misinformation along the way. I told her she could ask me ANYTHING. She would receive honest answers. I did not offer too many details—because I wanted to cover only what she was ready to hear. We talked for about forty-five minutes. We just scratched the surface of all the information she will need to know over the months and years to come. And, more importantly? We discussed how she felt about what she was learning.
I will not go into detail about the particulars of our chat. Every parent maintains different priorities concerning what to cover. Each will choose a different context in which to present the information. But I will share that, as with every such conversation, there was at one point a lengthy and reflective pause followed by, “So you and Dad?! . . . Ugh!!”
Since I am divorced, I’m sure that shocking revelation seemed even more confusing to her. I scrambled for the right response. And, in doing so, I actually said, “In the words of the great Will Smith, ‘When push comes to shove, you were conceived in love!'” Yep. That’s what I went with. But in that moment? I think we both appreciated the chance to laugh.
When I tucked her in a bit later that night, she hugged me and asked, “So, I can ask you anything, right?” I reaffirmed this promise and she said, “OK, good. Thanks.”
Since that first talk, we have enjoyed several wonderful and tender conversations. Discussion of new information is always interspersed with my asking questions like “How do you feel about this?” and “Do you want to know more or move on?”
Once the topic was brought to the table, the conversation was a lot easier than I anticipated. In a world in which she inevitably will be influenced by friends and school and media, I’m so glad to have established myself as her primary source of information. I can share my values with her when those of her friends and classmates may run counter. And she knows I love her and will be there—no matter what. I reminded her that her friends’ parents play the same roles in their homes and that each family decides for itself the right time to talk about sex. Be it sooner or much later than we chose to tackle the subject of sex in our home—the decision is theirs.
I encourage all moms out there to keep those lines of communication open. Listen for those little clues that your son or daughter may be ready to talk about sex. Talk to friends whose perspective you respect on such things. Seek out those who already have had this conversation with their kids and get their advice. I did. And it helped me tremendously.
Remember what questions and curiosities you had at their age? (I KNOW I’m not the only one who, as a seven year old, giggled when I saw that someone put SEX as their initials on the high score board for Pac Man at the local pizza parlor. And I KNOW I wasn’t the only young kid who learned some wildly inaccurate information passed on from friend’s older siblings.) Know that our sons and daughters are hearing things earlier than we want to admit. Choose to walk with them through every awkward question and confusing feeling. It may not be easy, but it’s so important.