When should you have it with your child?

The sex talk: when should you have it with your child?

S-E-X. It’s a topic many parents want to avoid, but with the bombardment of sexually explicit images from television movies, magazines and the Internet, parents are being forced to step up to the challenge a lot sooner. So, when exactly is the right time to talk to your child about sex?

According Dr. Adolph Brown, III, chairperson and associate professor of the psychology department at Hampton University and founder of the Child & Family Wellness Centers in Virginia and Ghana West Africa, there is no magical age that parents should use as a gauge to talk to their children about sex. However, explaining the basics to them while they are toddlers is highly recommended.

“The ‘talk’ should occur as early as when teaching children the names of their body parts,” explains Dr. Brown, a husband and father of seven. “We begin to talk about issues related to sex as potty training begins. Starting early will allow a gradual increase of the subject as the child matures and comprehension increases.”

Debrah Harris-Johnson, author of the book The African-American Teenagers Guide to Personal Growth, Health, Safety, Sex and Survival: Living and Learning in the 21st Century, says that talking to your child about sex isn’t just a conversation, but a series of conversations that should go on throughout their adolescent years.

“I don’t believe in ‘the talk,'” says Harris-Johnson. “This phrase implies a one-time discussion and there simply is not just one talk. Reinforcement and repetition is key. It’s how we learn.”

Harris-Johnson, a mother of two and grandmother of two from Clinton, MD, agrees with Dr. Brown about starting a dialogue with children at an early age regarding sexually related issues. She suggests that parents use the appropriate names of the penis, breast and vagina when they begin teaching toddlers about their body parts.

Just because your little one doesn’t ask doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t interested in knowing about the birds and the bees.

Bringing up the topic to your more reserved youngster doesn’t have to be difficult. Dr. Brown believes some of the best methods to introduce the subject to children can involve everyday events that may include conversations about a friend or a family member who is pregnant, shows on television or even headlines from the daily newspapers.

“Creating opportunities for teachable moments provides learning atmospheres for both parents and children,” says Dr. Brown. “Parents learn what the children know or do not know while the children gain priceless and potentially life-altering information.”

If there is more than one youngster to have these discussions with, parents need to take into consideration that the levels of curiosity, comprehension and maturity may vary from one child to the next. Respond to each child individually-offer no more or no less than asked.

Don’t feel intimidated if you don’t have all the answers. Yon can find books at your local library or bookstore with diagrams and illustrations that may assist with communication and understanding. If you feel that outside reinforcements are a better option, don’t hesitate to call a relative, family friend, church pastor, pediatrician or family physician for help.

Yvonne Lee, a divorced mother raising two boys, 13 and 9, is well aware of the challenges of educating children about sex. At the age of 5 she talked to both boys about their private areas before they entered public school. At age 11 her older son began asking questions that were sexually related.

“As a single parent this is a difficult phase for me,” admits Lee. “I rely on standard book knowledge, and my son’s pediatrician also addresses these issues with him.”

Lee, a Chicago schoolteacher, is sensitive to the fact that her sons may feel more comfortable talking to a man about sex, so she relies on the help of her trusted male friends to fill the role.

Girls and boys spend a great amount of their free time in front of the television watching half-naked bodies on reality shows that serve as poor examples of what a relationship is and what sex represents.

“What they know is what they see on TV,” says Brent Watters, editorial advisor for the Chicago teen magazine New Expression.

“There’s no learning what’s right and what’s wrong or the ramifications for jumping in bed with every other person.”

Watters, who works directly with these TV-watching teens who range in age from 14 through 19, reveals that sexual activity for many of them begins as early as junior high school. He says that parents should be aware that even though there has been a slight decline in the teen pregnancy rate (a 5 percent drop between 2001 to 2002), the number of sexually transmitted diseases is on the rise.

“Based on my discussions [with teenagers], they are becoming sexually active around 5th or 6th grade and having actual intercourse by 8th grade. Young people around 12 or 13 may be abstaining from full intercourse, but many of them are engaging in oral sex of some sort.”

To keep your child from becoming another statistic, Watters advises that parents pay close attention to what their children are doing and play an active part in their lives.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Johnson Publishing Co.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning