It’s Time for “The Talk”

Have you talked with your pre-teen/teenager about sex yet?  Is it too early? Too late? Nope.  Now is the perfect time!!  

According to a 2008 study of college age youth, approximately 26% of the boys and 10% of the girls reported first seeing pornography between the 
ages of 11-14 years.  According to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, 9% of boys and 11% of girls aged 14-15 years report having 
vaginal intercourse and 12% of boys and 10% of girls aged 14-15 years report receiving oral sex.

While these statistics can be scary for middle school parents, we don’t have to lock our kids up and throw away the key to protect their innocence. 
We can arm ourselves with tools and information and we can open a door of communication that will last well into their adulthood. If we are honest 
with our students about relationships and sex, we are more likely to be the one our child will come to with questions or when they’re faced with life’s 
big decisions. Don’t be scared!  Be prepared!  

Tip #1: Consider the youth’s past experience. Let’s begin by considering the childhood victim of sexual abuse/assault. While not all victims of 
childhood sexual abuse/assault will react in the same way, it is important to be prepared for the child victim/survivor to respond to sexuality 
anywhere along a sexual continuum.  If you are parenting a child that has been prematurely introduced to sex, you will want to consider the re-
learning that may need to occur.  For example, the previously victimized young person may have a skewed response to boundaries, right and 
wrong, and will know more about the physical aspects of human sexuality than a child unexposed to sexual behaviors.  Sex, in its purest form is a 
pleasant experience and is intended to feel good. Sometimes, though it may be difficult to accept, a victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault will 
have had very natural, biological, and physically positive responses to sexual stimulation of their body. Once those sensations have been 
awakened, it may be more difficult to abstain from premature sexual activity.  Couple those bodily reactions with emotional misconceptions about 
love, trust, and relationships, and you may be parenting a young person who is more open to sexuality.  Perhaps the most important tip for this 
parent or caregiver is to bring a new level of openness, honesty, and support to the relationship with the young person. It will be critically important 
for these young people to receive accurate information about sexual health, preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, positive 
decision making.  It is also beneficial for these young people to explore the concepts of healthy and appropriate boundaries in all types of 
relationships. Be willing to have very frank conversations, answer all sorts of questions, and to address topics you may not need to approach for 
several years with non-victimized children.

Tip #2: Be willing to share your family values about relationships and sex in an honest but non-judgmental manner.  Present the reasons why your 
family believes what it does about these important areas of life and don’t shy away from answering questions. Regardless of where your family falls 
on the “values continuum”, your adolescent will want the chance to “decide” for himself.  This is a critical component of adolescence and the journey 
to self-understanding and self-discovery.  It doesn’t mean that your pre-teen will totally disregard your family’s values or belief systems; it simply 
means they’re going to want to understand it on a new and deeper level.  You will want them to know you’re willing to engage in the conversation. 
You also want your child to feel comfortable coming to you when their struggling to figure it all out.  There are a lot of other places they can turn – 
friends, the media, Hollywood, the internet, etc. You want to be first on that list!

Tip #3: Approach the topic from a place of honesty and reality.  Don’t be afraid to share some of your own experiences with your pre-teen…good 
and bad, within reason and keeping it age-appropriate. If you’re a foster parent, you will want to document your conversations and what pieces of 
your story you have shared.  You may even discuss this particular tip with your family foster care worker or agency to determine their requirements 
in this area.  Youth will likely respect your willingness to be honest with them, and it will likely open their minds to what you’re trying to teach them. If 
your experiences haven’t all been great, tell them.  If you’ve made decisions you now wish you hadn’t, tell them.  If there have been consequences, 
positive or negative, share them. Your child needs to see you as “real” in this area…especially at a time when they’re getting so many “not-so-real” 
influences.  

Tip #4: Don’t be afraid to ask your child what he already knows, or has heard, about sex.  You might be surprised! Many kids know a lot more than 
we like to think, and not all of their information is incorrect.  On the flip side, they may be quite clear on some points.  You want the chance to make 
sure your pre-teen has correct information.  For example, your pre-teen may believe there is no risk in oral sex and you will want the chance to tell 
them about the risk of STDs that may be passed through oral contact with genitalia.  

Tip #5: Keep it natural.  Don’t sit your child down on the couch in a big, formal “Let’s Talk” scenario.  He’s likely to tune you out and not fully receive 
the wisdom you’re trying to impart.  Instead, take your student out to lunch, go on a weekend getaway with her, talk while you’re in the car driving 
somewhere, etc.  Remember, it may be just as uncomfortable for them as It is for you.

Tip #6: Remember, you don’t have to say it all at one time.  In fact, engaging in several conversations, over time, is better because it’s less 
intimidating and gives your child time to process all that you’ve shared.  It also allows him/her time to think of questions they may want to ask.  Your 
goal is to remind your child of your willingness to be available to them, over the long haul. Too many families have “the talk” one time and think it’s 
done.  You should never be “done” addressing this all important topic with your child.  

Tip #7: Do your homework.  For many adults, it’s been a long time since we brushed up on our STD information.  Ask the school nurse for some 
current information or check out the local health department for some great brochures and pamphlets.  Don’t give these to your kids, though! They’
re likely to toss them aside and not read them.  Instead, be prepared to share the information without the pamphlets. Remember, you’re going for a 
natural flow.  Spending time on Google could prove a little more intense than we may hope for, so opt for searching reputable websites the Centers 
for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/std. Don’t forget to read up on teen pregnancy and teen fatherhood, too!  If you’re completely 
overwhelmed or intimidated by the factual information, have a conversation with your family doctor and see if he/she can help explain the medical 
facts to the teen, or give you some tips on how to tackle the topics.

Tip #8: Take advantages of the opportunities that present themselves.  You might be watching a television program or movie with your child that 
has an interesting relationship dynamic.  Recognize these program story lines as an opportunity to ask your child what direction the story will take, 
how she feels about the character’s decision, etc.  It’s non-threatening and impersonal, so your pre-teen is less likely to put his/her guard up.  

Tip #9: Relationships are about more than sex, so talk with your child about more than sex.  Engage your adolescent in a conversation about what 
to look for in a relationship. Characteristics like honesty, loyalty, positive decision-making, respect, and kindness are all important.  It’s important for 
you to encourage your child to pay attention to the person, above and beyond the appearance or the sexual attraction.

Tip #10: Talk to other parents of older teens to find out what worked and didn’t work for them.  Seek out sources of support and encouragement for 
yourself, too. Parenting is hard, but we don’t have to do it alone.  Others have paved the way for us and we don’t need to totally re-invent the 
wheel.  There are a zillion books at the library and book stores to help you figure out how to tackle the conversation.  

Whatever you do, please, don’t put it off.  We owe it to the next generation provide adequate and accurate information so they can make the best 
decisions possible.