I recently read that girls and boys begin to feel the stirrings of hormonal changes at age 8. This is typically manifested via mood swings or just feeling more emotional than usual. I definitely sense this happening with my 8 year-old, and lately I’ve felt overcome with gratitude towards my friend A., who encouraged me to discuss hormones and sex early and often with my children after being consistently asked direct questions from them surrounding these topics. Even my younger children, at ages 4 and 6, have surprised me with some of their inquiries surrounding love, sex, and marriage. Rather than having “the talk,” I’m resorting to A’s philosophy: many small talks along the way. I am so glad I’ve chosen this path. While I know I won’t always get it right, I’m set on being their source of accurate information.
How many of us recall “the talk” with our parent(s) and remember thinking, “Uh, mom, you’re like, two years too late” ? My parents were certainly not my confidants when it came to getting the facts early and often. And frankly, even if they had started much beyond age 8, they would have lost their opportunity. The wonderful thing is that my kids don’t even know yet that it can sometimes be an uncomfortable topic, which gives them the freedom to cover a lot of ground with me.
I learned about sex through a myriad of sources: the bus, songs with crude lyrics I overheard during recess, the 8th grade class trip to Washington, and through graffiti written on metal lockers and bathroom doors. It was raw, uncomfortable, and downright embarrassing. When Mrs. Martin, our 8th grade health teacher, rolled a condom onto a banana I seriously thought I might just curl up in a ball and die. I felt mortified, never mind how hot and purple my face felt. I remember being really nervous that day, because as the startling facts about erections and ejaculation rolled off of her tongue, I realized how little I really knew. I remember wondering if my friends were on to me. Did they realize I was clueless too?
So what have we discussed so far in our family? My 4 year-old knows the difference between a cesarean and vaginal delivery, and seems to already feel that if nature allows, she’d prefer the latter. My older two know more…specifically, how a baby is made. I’ve kept it very mechanical, no discussion of arousal and all that jazz, but have clearly explained that a man an woman physically must fit together, that the semen comes out and meets/fertilizes the egg, and that a baby grows in a uterus, not in a “tummy”. By the same token, we’re big into vagina and penis around here, not all these weird nicknames. It’s amazing the number of things I have heard these two body parts called!
The reason my children have these answers now is because they’ve asked the questions. When possible, I believe children deserve truthful answers in language appropriate for them, and in descriptions basic enough for them to understand. I don’t want to be the mom who giggles, looks at the ground, and says nervously, “uh, ask me about that in a few years.” In a few years, my inquisitive and curious children will have found the answers somewhere else. I read another article that said most kids have some derivation of the “birds and the bees” by 4th grade, and it’s typically not accurate. This leads me to my next point: I want my children confidently armed with the facts. While we’ve said this is a private conversation for home only, I want them to know when someone is giving some silly version of the whole process. I want them to rest assured that they have it right.
Will we be having these frank discussions in between driving school lessons and school dance drop-offs in a few years? Absolutely not. I, like everyone else, will be shut out. I will be the loser mom to teenage kids who think I dress like a dork and don’t mind my own business enough. We will enter that deep, dark period where I don’t really know what is going on in their lives aside from what I overhear or what they choose to share with me. My goal is simply this: for my children to always know that when they ask me a direct question about these topics, they can be sure I will give them a direct answer back.
If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, I highly recommend that you check out these resources below, recommended by A’s friend Jane, filled with some great resources. Also, Jane’s blog is pubertyfromheadtotoe.blogspot.com
Birds and Bee and Kids.org – Amy Lang is clear and has great scripts for talking to little kids about sexual topics.
POMWA.org Peace of Mind website is a great, current helpful – not scary- website for parent prevention and child empowerment.
Stopitnow.org – website with global reach about stopping sexual abuse in children.
Makelovenotporn – this website compares real life and porn: porn says this… reality says this…
Advocates for youth.org
Pubertyfromheadtotoe.blogspot.com – these are my (Jane Esselstyn’s) tales about teaching sex ed. SUBSCRIBE -it comes right to you.
Books in italics recommended from POMWA
Its My Body
Your Body Belongs To You!
I Can Play It Safe
My Body is Private
Staying Safe By Saying NO!
A Very Touching Book
Books for Puberty and Preparatory Guidance for Puberty:
1. Mommy Laid an Egg, Babette Cole
2. Hair in Funny Places ,Babette Cole
3. The Care and Keeping of You, American Girl
4. The “What is Happening to My Body?”for boys ,Lynda and Area Madaras
5. The “What is Happening to My Body?” for girls, Lynda and Area Madaras
6. It’s not the Stork, Robbie Harris
7. It’s So Amazing, Robbie Harris
8. It’s Perfectly Normal, Robbie Harris
9. Girl Stuff, Blackstone and Guest
10. My Little Red Book, Nalebuff
11. Sex and Sensibility , Deborah Roffman
12. But How Did I Get in There in the First Place? , Deborah Roffman
13. Seductive Delusions, Jill Grimes, MD
14. Birds and Bees and Your Kids, Amy Lang
15. How to Talk with Teen about Love, Relationships, & S-E-X, Amy and Charles Miron