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Sex and the Modern Tween


When it comes to sexuality, your modern child is growing up in a very different world than you did. Modern parents need a different mindset and tools than the previous generations had.

Amy Lang and Jo Langford, two sex educators from Seattle, bring you their own unique, real-world brand of sex education and advice to help you brave up and embark upon these important conversations … or you can just do it the way your parents did. Good luck with that!

When should I start talking to my kid about sex?

Langford: How about now? But, seriously, it depends on how old your kid is – sex means something different to a 10-year-old than it does to a 14-year-old. Amy, how old do you think kids should be to know the "ins and outs" of how babies are made?

Lang: I believe they should know by the time they are in Kindergarten …

Langford: (Aspirates his cappuccino.)

Lang: … Because they are in school and hanging out with peers … They WILL start hearing, and they need to hear from you first, because you will be more accurate. They are also super open to the information because they haven't learned there is anything to be embarrassed, or ashamed or afraid or grossed-out about sex, yet.

Langford: $#!+! That's young! That does seem REALLY, young, but I do know what you mean about being exposed at school, by kids with older siblings or gotten advance knowledge somehow. Even in Kindergarten, stuff gets passed around so virally.

Lang: It's really about getting in the door first, and establishing yourself as the expert and the resource when it comes to …

Langford: … Anything …

Lang: … Everything related to sexuality, and if you are open, it increases the likelihood they will come to you if anyone touches them in an inappropriate way or says something that freaks them out.

Langford: Like I said earlier, it depends on the ages. Some of this stuff is easy to over-share. What do you recommend in terms of letting them steer the ship in terms of that conversation?

Lang: (Gives snarky eyebrow raise.) They are NOT steering the ship! WE are in charge of this conversation – which means: Keep it simple, keep it matter-of-fact and keep it short. And make sure you talk about your values – a lot. We have tons of influence over how they think about sex and relationships.

Langford: I know that! (Returns snarky eyebrow raise.) I guess I'm thinking about when the kids come to us – I always encourage parents to ask three more questions before they start talking, to clarify what exactly the kid is asking. Sometimes we give TMI because we are excited or nervous and go a bit overboard … we don't want to blow their minds.

Lang: I think the fundamentals of baby-making; sperm, egg, penis, vagina … the facts and "sciencey" stuff of reproduction doesn't blow their minds. We are the ones that freak out, and have sexual histories, and baggage and live in the adult perspective – their perspective is completely different.

Langford: And starting these conversations is different than when they come and start them with us. We can't always wait until they are curious enough to ask questions.

Lang: It's OK if they're not curious. They need to know. Are they curious about tying their shoes? Eating healthy food? Getting a good night's sleep? This is about health and safety. That being said, you certainly would not want to start conversations with your kids about different kinds of sexual practices or your own sex life – the more varsity-level stuff.

Langford: I agree with all of that – especially the sharing your own sex life stuff – don't be THAT parent! AND, I think by 12 or so they need more information around how it all works – the different sex acts, local laws, condoms and all that … how to do things safely without harming themselves or others.

Lang: I know it's hard to think about, but the American Academy of Pediatrics says kids should have a basic understanding of pretty much everything about sex "by puberty." I'm nicer and say, "by middle school."

Langford: Because those two things are not necessarily the same.

Lang: If your 9-year-old is having her period, do you want her know about all the different ways people have sex? No.

Langford: Exactly, AND if your teen starts getting hot and heavy with someone or buying condoms or snapping pictures of his penis with his iPhone, you want him to know how to figure out how to make the best, most informed choice for himself.

Our Bottom Line

  • Start sooner rather than later – by age 5 is ideal.
  • You are in charge of the conversation, not your kids, so don't wait for them to come to you.
  • By middle school, they should have a basic understanding of everything related to sexuality.
  • Keep it simple and short.
  • Talk about your values and beliefs about sex and relationships.
  • It's never too late … jump in as soon as you can.

Jo Langford is the author of The SEX EDcyclopedia, the only modern guide to healthy sexuality for boys and their parents. He is also a dad, a Master's-level therapist and sex educator for tweens, teens and parents, in Seattle, Wash. More about his work with youth, parents and professionals to promote healthy, positive and safe sexual behavior can be found at his website, www.beheroes.net.

With Amy Lang's help and support, parents discover that talking to kids about "it" doesn't have to be scary, overwhelming or tedious. Through her Seattle business, Birds + Bees + Kids,® Lang helps parents of all beliefs have easy, open and effective conversations about sexuality, love and relationships with their kids. Learn more at www.birdsandbeesandkids.com.

Stay tuned for next month's question for Lang and Langford: "Talking to Your Kids about Porn."

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