Sex Ed: When Is the Right Time to Have 'The Talk'?

Filed under: Just For Moms, Tweens, Health & Safety: Tweens, Development: Tweens, Social & Emotional Growth: Tweens, Development: Teens

A good friend told me the best parenting advice she ever got: Your child will let you know what she is ready for. So, don't buy her a bike for her birthday if she hasn't asked for one; wait until she expresses a desire for a bike, then buy the bike.

Last Christmas, my husband, Sean, and I had a similar discussion. Sean heard that a relative was going to buy their kids the Nintendo Wii for Christmas, and he thought we should, too. Our kids had never even muttered the words Wii, let alone put it on their Christmas list.
Why, I asked him, would we introduce video games into our home when our kids are not even into them? When I listed the potential problems that would come with the game (fights, negotiations over time spent playing, the kids leaving it out and the baby wrecking it), it didn't take long for Sean to concede that it wasn't worth the trouble. It also didn't take long for me to realize that he was the one who wanted a Wii.

When it comes to talking to our kids about sex, we're taking a similar tack: Don't offer information they're not asking for. Which is why the cookie-cutter sex talk most schools give fourth graders these days never quite made sense to me. Not every fourth-grader is ready or even curious about sex. I know my daughter isn't. And so I decided that I would sign the permission slip opting her out of the sex-ed health class. I plan to keep my daughter home that day for a lazy day spent watching movies, drawing, hanging out with her younger siblings and baking cookies with Mom. Besides, I think it's my job to talk to her about her body and sex, not the school's. This is way too important to subcontract out to anyone else.

I have a close relationship with my daughter and I've been trying to stay tuned to the stories and conversations she relays from school and the questions she brings home. A few days ago, she asked me to tell her more about "sporty."
"Sporty?", I asked.

"Yeah, sporty", she said confidently.

"Hmm, I don't know. Can you give me any idea what it's about."

"You know, sporty. When girls change."

"Ohhhh, puberty!"

"Yeah, puberty. See, a girl in my class has to leave to go to the bathroom every four hours to do something and it has to do with puberty."

"Yes. I know what you're talking about."

"Well," I said, gathering my thoughts, recalling my best skills from acting school so I could appear calm and casual, and bracing myself for 'the talk' as I stirred a pot of soup on the stove. "You see, what happens is that..."

And that was the point I realized that she was no longer listening. Suddenly she was distracted by Pippi, our dog, and her baby sister, who was playing beside her, and before I knew it, she was digging through her backpack looking intensely for something.

My voice trailed off and she didn't even seem to notice. She simply wasn't interested. The fact that I knew what she was talking about was all she seemed to want to know. I stood there watching her in all her glorious and unadulterated girlhood and thought, there's no way I could disrupt this innocence before its time.

I know plenty of parents and experts (especially the one on Oprah who famously recommended that moms of teens buy their daughters a vibrator) are going to disagree with me here, but I feel I know my child best and we have a relationship where I'm pretty certain she would come to me with questions, or that I would somehow sense that she was ready for the information.

I know, I know, some kid at school might talk to her about it before I do. That's true. But if that happens, I believe that she will come to me afterwards and I can then give her clear, accurate answers to her questions.

Is it a perfect foolproof solution? No. But what in the messy job of child-rearing ever is?

What I know is that my particular 10-year-old still plays with her American Girl dolls, dresses up and plays pirates with her siblings out in the tree fort and deserves to be a little girl as long as she so desires.

And when sporty comes knocking, I'll be there for her.

Related: Sexualizing Youth Halloween Costumes

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.