I received this question today on my FB business page and loved it so much I wanted to share and elaborate.
Question~ (from Julie B. 39 year old mother)
What is the appropriate age to educate your child about sex? I was watching the CBS show Rules of Engagement last Monday with my 7 year old son. I know, I am Mother of the Year. Anyway, this episode was about a couple using a surrogate to have a baby. The husband’s best girlfriend, who is a lesbian, is the surrogate. My son speaks up half way thru the show, “Wait, Mom, I’m confused. How is she pregnant? She doesn’t have a husband. And that couple keeps talking about how it’s their baby. What is going on? How could she be having a baby? I thought she was a friend of the couple who want to have a baby.” I cringe.
Say nothing. Then say, “It’s kinda complicated adult stuff. Sometimes God sends us woman to have babies for woman whose body’s can’t.” Surprisingly that satisfied him. SEVEN is too young, in my head. But what is the right age?
When raising children, its important to take advantage of ‘teachable’ moments. These moments occur regularly throughout our childrens development. It is recommended to respond to these situations at your children’s level of development. The responses should reflect three main parts: values, age appropriate, and free from myth (no stork stories here). Despite us as parents viewing our child as ‘so young’ and not aware of sexual issues; take heed- early elementary students are very aware of: gender differences, knowing there is a genital difference, curiosity of pregnancy and birth, a seeming interest in nudity, as well as occasionally or even regularly touch their genitals.
People often miss the opportunity when these moments enter into our daily lives. For example, waiting in the line at the grocery store, your child notices a man that more resembles a woman, and in a curious tone asks ‘ Mom, is that a man or woman?’ This ‘moment’ can lead to a discussion that some men may feel more comfortable in women’s wear or don’t seem comfortable being a man and they dress and act as they feel they are vs. how they were born, or a confirmation the customer is a man with certain traits (ie. long hair, painted nails). The open dialogue fosters acceptance of diversity, improved tolerance for gender roles and establishes your parental role of compassion and the value of a nonjudgemental attitude. If your child decides the next day he would like his nails painted, you as the parent can decide if this fits in your family values. Painting boys nails may not be a value fit which you might respond in this manner : Even though the male customer was wearing nail polish, in our family we’re not too excited about that choice, tell me about your interest in painting your nails? This may lead to a whole different discussion, be perceived as no big deal by your child or may be a way for your child to be heard and express their individuality.
Seven year olds are very curious about pregnancy and birth. Most have known someone who was pregnant or who has just given birth. This can lead to more teachable moments such as when your child asks about Aunt Sue’s baby or her big belly sticking out. Aunt Sue’s pregnancy may lead to a discussion of brief anatomy and pregnancy terms: ‘ Isn’t it exciting for Aunt Sue! Her baby is in her uterus and lives their for nine months before the baby is born’. This answer may satisfy your youngster. If not, they are sure to let us know. Base your answers on your child’s question, then provide a brief response that follows the 3 main parts as noted above.
TV shows frequently contain adult related content which can be handled on a child appropriate level. Start the conversation small during these moments and elaborate more only if your child seems dissatisfied with your response. It is much healthier and effective to provide ongoing sexual education rather than waiting for ‘one day’ and having the ‘big’ discussion of the birds and the bees. Remember this dialogue happens with life experiences and becomes more detailed with age. It is common to feel uncomfortable as a parent ‘what words do I use’ ‘I wasn’t ready for these questions yet’ ‘are they too young to know’. The question submitted by the reader details adult content on a TV show dealing with pregnancy and surrogacy. The reader appears to have responded in a respectful and appropriate manner that fit their family values: it was an adult issue and some couples/women have other women ‘carry’ the baby for them. This answer can also take one step further in the discussion of adoption. If your child knows of anyone who was adopted and how it is their ‘real parents’ even when the ‘mother’ is unable to carry the child, he/she can easily relate. Again it is a way to open your child’s eyes to diversity in families and what actually makes ‘a family’.
For further guidance, I suggest Debra Haffners book: “From Diapers to Dating” A parents guide to raising sexually healthy children from infancy to middle school.
and her blog:
Keep the dialogue open, meet your child where they are, and help your child develop a healthy view of sexuality!