When to Talk to Your Child about Puberty, Sex and Stuff Like That

You want the best possible life for your child. At every age and stage of her life, you want to see her happy, healthy, successful, fulfilled, enjoying great relationships, living a sane and balanced life. This is your dream for her.

From day one of your being a parent, you commit yourself to doing everything in your power to make this dream come true. You care for her, groom her, show her, tell her, teach her, prepare her, you supervise her every activity. You also try to shield her from both the worthless and the harmful in life – be it thoughts, activities, information, or people.

You are dedicated to help her create and live the best possible life she can.

It is your best effort, but it is a fairly lopsided effort, and doomed to failure almost from the start. There’s a reason I’m saying this: if you’re preparing her to have a happy, healthy, successful… life, then you need to introduce her to all of life, not to selected bits and pieces of life. But you don’t!

I know this, and so do you, because if you’d been talking to her about all of life, she’d know about puberty and sex and stuff like that from the time she was a toddler. Instead, all she learns from you is that there is stuff ‘that she should not ask / talk about’, or ‘that she is too young to understand’: basically, she gets the clear impression that you are uncomfortable and/or unwilling to face and deal with some questions / issues.

Tell me something: Say your 2-year old asks you why leaves are green, and why everyone says you should plant trees. He’s way too young to understand photosynthesis and soil erosion and ‘stuff like that’, but you still try your best to get as close to the real explanation, don’t you, when you try and answer his questions?

Then why do you clam up about sex?

Of course you need to deliver the answers in a form he can understand! That goes without saying, no matter what the message, or what the age of your child.

Why, then, do you perpetuate the “the-stork-brought-you-home-type” of stories? (Then he watches movies about teenage sex, and wonders: ‘What is going on? My parents can’t be such dorks they don’t know this stuff, so it looks like they don’t want to talk to me about it.’ So it becomes forbidden. Before he ever learns sex is as normal as sleeping or eating, he learns it is ‘bad’, ‘taboo’, something to be uncomfortable about.) And you think you’re so smart fobbing him off with some made up stories! While he’s learning not to trust you… Sad, sad situation – of your own making.

If there is a Mom living in the house, she presumably has periods. Why isn’t it talked about? It’s not a big deal – it can be as normal as why people have fevers, or why Granddad has arthritis, or the importance of going to the dentist, or how fire cooks food, or why it is important to keep the house clean, or why the sun rises and sets…

Children are not too young to deal with it. Children are the most accepting, matter-of-fact people you can find. It is WE parents who are too scared, under-confident, and conflicted in our OWN attitudes to these issues; it is we who are unable to deal with them. And we end up passing on these conflicted attitudes to our children.

That is the only reason why we make such a mess of ‘THE TALK’.

And it is a mess – the timing of it, the way we broach the topic, the way we either avoid making eye contact or stare the child down, the awkward “one long lecture should fix it once and for all and then I don’t need to worry about it” thinking behind it, the searching for ‘technical’ words which they won’t hear at all in the real world, the avoidance of slang which is all they hear around them, the ‘good’ attitude to it (she must behave like sex doesn’t exist for her at a personal level!), the ‘bad’ attitude to it (she can’t think: I am curious, I want to know more, I want to ask someone who won’t think less of me or condemn me for asking, I want to ask someone who will tell me things as they really are, not someone who will try to manipulate my thinking with their answers, I feel things I don’t understand – how do I make sense of them?, is it wrong of me to feel this way?, is it wrong of me to think this way?,…)    

If you, as a Mom, are not yet comfortable with your body and your menstrual cycle, if you haven’t accepted it, if you can’t talk to your partner about it, how do you expect to speak with your child about it? Whether your child is a boy or a girl is entirely beside the point.

If you as a Dad are unable to deal with how your body acts and reacts in various situations, if you don’t acknowledge that you have fought for control over your body (and might still be doing so! 🙂 ), how do you think you will be able to explain anything to your child? Whether your child is a boy or a girl is entirely beside the point.

One of my parenting mantras is never to lie to a child – any child. Never.

I will try my best to tell them the truth in whatever form they can get it. If they absolutely can’t get it, I might say, “I’m not sure how to explain so you can understand, but I’m trying to come up with a way to do so. I need some time.” And then I give them an example. Maybe something like: “Sometimes, you feel something, but you don’t know how to express what you feel. Or you may not even know yourself what you feel, just that you feel something. So you need to spend some time to understand what it is you’re feeling. I need time in the same way…”

You see, I know the answer to what they’re asking! So it is my responsibility as the parent (or the adult) to find a way to explain it to the child. If I can’t explain, it is only because I am unwilling to do so. There is no other reason. After all, I’m happy to talk to the child forever about everything else under the sun! Just not this ‘sex stuff’…!

I have spoken to at least a dozen children of various ages over the years, telling them about what adults euphemistically call “growing up”, and I’ve never had any problems telling them, and they’ve never had any problems accepting what I said.

Obviously, these are all children who are very close to me, with whom I have had a real relationship, though I am not necessarily related to all of them. And these conversations have played out over years, growing in complexity as the issues became more real and immediate to the children, with one or the other of us coming back to it at different points. With each child, it was an interrupted, but ongoing conversation, one both the child and I were comfortable with.

I have seen these children make conscious choices in life, and that has been a wonderful experience – seeing them make a choice from a position of love, affirmation of oneself; empowered with information. They haven’t avoided the mental and emotional pains of growing up, but I believe they have had it much easier than many other children who are left to make sense of the whole ‘sex stuff’ on their own – sucked under by the collective quagmire of social ignorance, labeling, peer pressure, and their parents’ cluelessness. The oldest of these ‘children’ is now married (happily married! 🙂 ), and has not yet shown signs of being negatively affected by getting the ‘sex talk’ from the time he first broached the topic – when he was less than 4 years old!

It’s do-able. Give it a shot.

One of the reasons we face so many problems with growing children is that they are growing at a natural and normal pace, but we’re holding them back.

You won’t talk to them about their bodies, about the body in general, about puberty, about the opposite sex, about how babies are made; but you will talk them into the year 2015 about taking on more responsibility, doing chores, performing well at school, taking care of their parents / grandparents, taking care of the environment – things YOU consider grown up.

And you’re trying to tell me your kids are not growing lopsided! I don’t believe you.

If they’re growing up, they’re growing up in every way – you can’t tailor their growing up to your convenience, though you’d like to do so! 🙂

Over and over again, you have seen it: the more you suppress or ignore something, the greater the force with which it will hit you in the face when you least expect it. (I’m sure there’s one of Newton’s Laws here – action and reaction?) It’s like a Jack-in-the-box. The more you try to influence your child to have one kind of attitude, the more extreme will be his reaction in exploring the opposite attitude. That too, at a time you’d rather he be guided by you! (Be honest: wouldn’t you rather that he be guided by you always and forever? 🙂 )

Okay, you’re willing to consider the idea that the earlier you start talking to your child about ‘stuff like that’, the better off you both will be.  

So: when should you talk to your child about puberty, sex and stuff like that? Every time he asks you.

Carefree Parenting has moved to a new home! Please visit http://carefreeparenting.com for all the articles, books and other material. See you soon. 🙂


8 Comments on “When to Talk to Your Child about Puberty, Sex and Stuff Like That”

  1. rajeev says:

    that was a real gud and comprehensive piece, dear Vinita! JAI HO!!!.

  2. vinita upreti says:

    I agree with your…honesty is the best policy ….approach…..if we are honest to our own self and the knowledge of our own selves then only the knowledge will flow….

  3. Preeti Hans says:

    Can we have some examples of ur conversation about sex and stuff with children… it may help us understand it in real context.. actually, a lot of us believe that it is important to talk about sex to children but ‘how’ and ‘what’ is what many of us are dealing with… it is because whatever we know about this stuff, we came to know about it from some tongue-in-cheek conversations and comments!

  4. There are many posts to come on this one, Preeti! And the book will have a lot too 🙂

  5. […] If you have a great relationship with your child, she may actually ask you a question like, “Dad / Mom, when did you first have sex?” […]

  6. […] student might have been 15, or perhaps even younger (“oh, no!” says the parent in me) when she got into the relationship. I’m sure that in another […]

  7. […] you come up with some answer to the question. But as your child grows, she wants more detail. (“How did I get into Mom’s tummy?” – a question you might have been dreading!   More on answering this in a subsequent post.) Given […]

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