Talking to kids about the birds and the bees

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

It's important for parents to realize that talking to their children about sex is not an isolated event. Thinking of "The Talk" as one tell-all session stifles two-way communication and makes parents and kids uncomfortable. Instead, the dialogue between parents and children about sexuality should be ongoing, starting in childhood and continuing through adolescence.

According to experts at Nationwide Children's Hospital, parents should teach young children the differences between girls and boys, which parts of the body are "private," when and how it's appropriate to discuss body parts, and so on.

Older school-aged kids should understand the changes that occur in puberty and be taught that these differences should be respected. Early to middle adolescents are ready to learn not only the "mechanics" of sex, but what it means to be in a romantic relationship from an emotional standpoint too.

"Rather than make talking about sex into a big deal, look for teachable moments and use them as conversation starters," suggested Cynthia Holland-Hall, M.D., MPH. Holland-Hall is a member of the Section of Adolescent Health at Nationwide Children's Hospital, providing the only pediatric and adolescent (ages 11-21) gynecological consultation services in central and southeastern Ohio.

"When someone the child knows gets pregnant, or when two kids on a TV show 'hook up,' these are moments a parent can use to find out how their child feels about these subjects and how they see sex coming into their own lives."

These moments give the conversation some context and may feel less threatening to kids because the conversation is initially about someone else's behavior. But talking about other people's choices will probably reveal your child's beliefs.

Suggested questions parents might ask their kids

  • Do you think it's okay for kids your age to have sex?
  • When do you think it's okay for people to have sex?
  • I understand you might feel funny talking to me about sex, but I want you to know I am always here for you if you have any questions or things you want to talk about. Is there anything you want to talk about now?

The American Academy of Pediatrics says sex education that includes information about abstinence and birth control is the most effective way to keep down the rate of teen pregnancy. Parents play a key role in sex education. It's important for kids to feel (from a young age) that they can come to someone they trust with a question about sexuality - no matter what it is.

Providing the facts is vital, but it's also important for parents to give kids a sense their own beliefs and morals. Teens especially may seem uninterested in their parents' views on sex and birth control, but they usually listen more than you think. It's okay if kids don't feel comfortable approaching parents with certain questions about sexuality, but it's important that they have a trusted adult, teacher, school counselor, school nurse or doctor to talk to about birth control and other issues related to sex.

Tips for having 'The Talk':

  • Keep the conversations going throughout different stages of development.
  • Start by asking your child general questions about sex to find out how he or she feels about it.
  • Look for teachable moments as conversation starters.
  • Use the correct anatomical words and do not laugh at your child, no matter how silly his or her questions may seem. You don't want to make your son or daughter feel ashamed or embarrassed.
  • Don't give up because your child doesn't appear to be listening. Kids hear more than they let on.