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Talking with Your Preteen about Sex

Talking with your preteen about sex may not be among the easiest conversations you'll ever have. But, those chats could be some of the most important.

You might get a chance to learn what your tween – a term for kids in the 9- to 12-year-old range – has questions about. You might also find out what he or she already knows. And, you can talk about the possible consequences of sex – including pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Maybe you're thinking your child seems too young for such matters. But, experts agree that it's best to have these talks early - and regularly. You can't be sure when children will need this information.

Above all, these conversations give you an opportunity to share your values and beliefs – to help guide your child in the right direction.

Look for teachable moments

Don't just have "the talk." Make it more meaningful by using real situations to discuss sex – on an ongoing basis. For example, you might broach the subject when:

  • You notice your son has downloaded music with inappropriate lyrics.
  • Another parent tells you that some kids at your child's school are in trouble for "sexting."
  • Your daughter asks to watch a popular movie or TV series for teens. The previews show questionable content, including sexual activity.
  • One of your tween's friends has posted suggestive photos on a social networking site.
  • A news story breaks about a celebrity's provocative or offensive behavior.

A wise approach

As much as possible, try to make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you with questions about sex. Be honest. Listen thoughtfully, even if you don't agree with all that you hear. Don't be critical. And, don't laugh – even if you feel a bit awkward or a question seems silly. As your kids become teens, you want them to know you're there to listen with care.

Remember, this is also a time when tweens are going through body changes. Maybe you feel uncomfortable or aren't sure how to answer certain questions. If so, consider asking your child's doctor to be part of the conversation.

Your voice matters

Some parents may worry that talking about sex will increase kids' interest in it. But, as children get older, they will be curious, whether you're having these talks or not, experts say.

And, when parents talk openly about sex and have clear expectations, kids are usually more responsible in their sexual behavior. So, don't be afraid to offer information and guidance.

Source: Healthy Mind Healthy Body®, Karis Gabrielson, R.N. and Arleen Fitzgerald, L.I.C.S.W., January 2012.

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