Though schools often include sex education in the curriculum — they might impart some information about AIDS and pregnancy, for example — parents, too, should be involved with educating their children about these issues of physical health, and about the moral aspects of sexual behavior. Prepare your middle school-aged kids for puberty so they're not caught with their proverbial pants down — offer your child the information in small doses, experts recommend, rather than in one "big talk."
According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS),
Your pre-teen son should know that:
- His penis and testicles will start to increase in size and his scrotum will change color.
- His erections will become more frequent during puberty, and he may have nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams.
- He may experience a growth spurt and his voice will begin to change.
Your daughter should know by around age 9 or 10 that:
- She will get her period at some point, a change that means she can become pregnant.
- Her body, including her breasts, will be developing and could change more slowly or quickly than her friends' figures.
Whether your child is a boy or a girl, both Mom and Dad should be involved in talking with them about sex, suggests SIECUS, to provide both a man's and woman's perspective.
Think it's too late for you as a parent to step up to the plate? If you have teenagers with whom you have not been talking and who aren't receptive, Pepper Schwartz recommends asking an older brother, sister, close friend or other person who shares your values to help.
They May Do It Anyway
Teach your kids, SIECUS advises, that not having sex is the only way to guard 100 percent against pregnancy, as well as AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Get across to your kids that they should come to you or another trusted adult if they are considering intercourse. But know that not all kids will inform their parents of their sexual intentions, and that the average age at first intercourse in the United States is 16 for American males and 17 for females.
"Sex will be attractive to them sometime and you want to be ahead of the curve," stresses Schwartz.
Worried that teaching your kids about condoms for safer sex will give them the message that you condone premarital intercourse? Your morals matter, but be sure not to bury your head in the sand. After all, Schwartz points out, "Talking to me about snowboarding doesn't make me want to snowboard. But if I am going to take up something new — snowboarding, or say inline skating — someone should tell me about helmets and knee pads to protect me so I don't kill myself."
Resources to Get You Started
Here are some resources to help you begin the conversation about sex with your kids:
- Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character, by Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., and Dominic Cappello (New York: Hyperion, 2000).
- Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense About Sex, by Deborah Roffman, M.S. (Cambridge: Perseus Publishing, 2000).
- Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, by Ruth Bell (New York: Times Books, 1998).
- Dr. Ruth Talks to Kids: Where You Came From, How Your Body Changes, and What Sex Is All About, by Dr. Ruth Westheimer (New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1998).