Talking to kids about sexuality can be challenging, especially in a society where sex ed is considered inappropriate for kids. Having open conversations and how you talk about sexuality with your kids impacts them for a lifetime.
Conversations about sexuality with kids aren’t about how to have sex. Kids get educated with essential information, equipped with knowledge on what to do in certain situations, and taught about values and attitudes. Generally, parents in the Philippines avoid having this topic with their kids because they fear that teaching kids about sexuality will lead to promiscuity. The best sex education strategy is by having conversations about sexuality while kids are young, and continue these conversations as they are growing up. It’s better that you educate them with correct information rather than the internet or misinformed peers.
The question now is: what is the best way to talk about sexuality, and at what age should the kids be before starting? There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for this, but here’s a rough guide that can help you. Always remember to explain important things in a way that your kids will understand.
Toddlers: 1-2 Years Old
Teach kids the names of body parts, including their genitals. Knowing the correct names will let them to better communicate health issues, injuries, or sexual abuse. It also encourages self-confidence and positive body image because they get to understand that these parts are as normal as the others.
It’s also important to avoid connecting biology with gender identity. Two-year-olds generally know the difference between male and female, and can usually determine if a person is male or female. Being mindful of your language will let them have a general understanding that gender can be expressed in different ways and is not determined by the genitals.
Toddlers should also be taught that their bodies are private. It’s normal for them to explore their bodies and even touch their genitals, but they should understand when and where they can do it. Be gentle how you say it to avoid making them feel shame or embarrassment.
Preschoolers: 2-4 Years Old
Kids at this stage should understand boundaries, and what is and isn’t appropriate when it comes to touching and being touched. This is the core of consent, and it’s crucial to teach young kids to ask before touching someone else. They should understand that their body is their own and that they cannot be touched without their permission. Teach them that people can only touch them in some ways, and only their parents and healthcare providers can touch their genitals. Let kids feel safe to tell you about any inappropriate actions they experience.
Kids at this age also tend to be curious about each other’s bodies and the functions of each body part. Talk to them about when it’s appropriate to be naked. If in case you catch kids touching other kids’ genitals, gently discuss how it’s not appropriate.
By this time, kids may also ask questions about how babies are made. The amount of information you give can depend on how much you think the kids can understand. What matters is that you get to answer the questions as honestly as you can. Maybe using the kid’s own birth story can help you. It would also be great to enlighten kids that there are various ways how families and relationships can be built, and not just the typical nuclear, heterosexual families.
School-Age Children: 5-8 Years Old
By this time, most kids may have already explored their bodies. This is the best time to teach them about proper hygiene and masturbation. Let them understand that masturbation is normal, but should be done in private.
Towards the end of this age span, it’s also good to talk to them about puberty and sex. Let kids also understand what are the other changes the opposite sex goes through during puberty. This could also be a great time to let kids learn about gender identities, the range of gender expressions, and the role of sexuality in relationships. Conversations about sexual intercourse and reproduction may still pop up from time to time, and have deeper questions. Enlighten them as well that there are different ways of reproducing.
By this time, they may also be more active on the internet. It’s also important to discuss how to safely explore digital content, and the basics of privacy, nudity, and respect for others in relationships. Create rules about talking to strangers and sharing information and pictures online, and what they should do in case they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable. You may want to preemptively explain pornography in case they come across such content. Educate them that although it’s not a bad thing, it’s something for adults only.
You can also be more straightforward in talking about sexual abuse to kids. By knowing about this unfortunate reality, they can protect themselves and help friends who experience abuse. It can be a difficult subject to digest, but you can start with the basics, such as not allowing anyone to touch them without permission.
At this age, you can teach kids about the concept of consent. The word ‘no’ holds more power than you think, and it can protect kids from uncomfortable situations.
Encourage kids to ask for permission before touching someone physically or showing physical affection. Let kids know that it’s okay to refuse to receive physical affection. Don’t force them to hug someone, even if it’s a family member.
Pre-Teens: 9-12 Years Old
Pre-teens tend to experience a lot of changes in this age span. Revisit everything they have learned already, and reinforce these while giving them additional information and reminders.
By this time, you want to educate them about safe sex. Discuss with them the basics of contraception, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Also have a discussion about what makes a good relationship, and what makes a bad one.
Pre-teens tend to be more active and influenced by the internet, so it’s a good idea to remind them about the established rules for online safety. Talk to them about cyberbullying, sexting, and the risks of sharing nude or sexually explicit photos of themselves or someone else.
Teenagers: 13-18 Years Old
Teens should be equipped with more knowledge about puberty, especially menstruation and wet dreams. Have a more in-depth conversation with them about pregnancy, STIs, and different contraceptive methods and how they are used for safer sex. When talking about safer sex, enlighten them as well that alcohol and drugs can impact judgment.
Give teens more information about discerning a healthy relationship from an unhealthy one. This includes discussions on consent, violence, abuse, and how to refuse or end a relationship.
Teens tend to be private and secretive towards adults, especially their parents. Having open conversations with them about sensitive topics will make them feel comfortable to approach you for questions or problems. As kids enter their teenage years, you want to give them enough information and preparation to evaluate risks and make good decisions.