when is the right time to talk to your kids about sex?

It’s a question often wrestled with by parents and leaders, when is the right time to talk to kids about sex?

The answer is simple.

The right time to talk to your kids about sex is just before they hear it from someone or somewhere else.

That might not be the answer you were hoping for. In fact, that probably opens up more questions than anything. How can you know when they’re going to be exposed to content on television, scribbled on a bathroom wall, stumbled across on a computer or device, conspiratorially whispered about amongst friends at a sleep over, or joked about in a locker room? It seems impossible to predict, and therefore difficult to pre-empt, but it is undeniably the ‘best time’.

The power of first exposure.

Our brains are wired to attach knowledge about a subject to the person who first introduced it to us in an informative or useful way. So, whoever first exposes us to information is solidified, subconsciously, in our minds as the expert on that topic. We are far more likely to return to that source if we find ourselves needing more details or, if we get data from an alternate source, we are likely to come back to the original source to verify or test it.

What an incredible opportunity that presents as parents or people of influence in the lives of young people. If they are introduced to concepts of sexual biology, reproduction, arousal, intimacy, consent, masturbation, boundaries, gender, safety, identity and responsibility by you, they are more likely to see you as a source of useful information and understanding on these topics. How much more preferable is it that YOU be in this position of influence than a child’s school friends, bus pals or anything that might spew out of a television or smart phone?

This doesn’t completely address the question of timing, but I believe it ought to create a sense of urgency and boldness driven by the value of equipping our young people to adequately navigate their own sexuality, understanding and expression in a highly sexualised culture.

“I don’t want to talk to my children too early because I don’t want to introduce them to concepts before they need to be … and I don’t want to arouse their curiosity, which might lead them to further (potentially unhelpful) exploration.”

This is a hybrid of commonly expressed concerns by parents when wrestling with decisions around timing.

The myth of early exposure.

It goes without saying (which generally means it needs to be said!) that when we reference ‘early’ conversations (as in, prior to when they might otherwise be exposed) those need to happen in age appropriate and ongoing ways.

It’s not just ‘the talk’ it’s a lot of talks. It’s a continuing conversation. Any thoughts you have, as a parent or leader, of having one conversation that articulately (and in completely non-awkward ways) covers all of the necessary topics and concepts your child needs to successfully land them in sexually educated, adjusted and healthy adulthood need to be banquished! Sorry! 😉

In light of this, any topics you broach ought to be couched in language and cover information that is able to be helpfully processed and absorbed by the individual child. It will be different at every stage of development, but it will most likely be different from child to child. Their level of maturity, sensitivity, social awareness, personal experiences, personality and intellect will all impact what they need to know and what they are able to absorb.

Tips

  • You need to talk about everything in order to be able to talk about anything. Developing a relationship of open dialogue with your child (about Minecraft and puppies and football teams and complicated school/friendship dramas and …)  will grow their confidence that you are someone they can trust to handle conversations about particularly uncomfortable or uncertain topics.
  • Ask your child to ask questions – and then ask more questions. “What do YOU want to know? What do you understand and what more can we learn about together?” Respond to only the questions that are asked and check understanding as you go. “Does that make sense? Does that settle what you were thinking about?”
  • Capitalise on ‘teachable moments’. Interact with books they’re reading or things they see on television – “Why do you think she/he reacted like that?” If your child says or does something that indicates a wrong understanding (like the Gr 5 child wrestling with a peer in the playground I overheard exclaiming “stop it, or you’ll catch puberty!”) or an awareness or exposure to something – speak to it, ask about it, clarify it.
  • Act normal! Even if you don’t feel normal, ACT IT! It is counterproductive to try and explain the ‘naturalness’ of sexuality and intimacy while you stumble over words, don’t look anyone in the eye and scurry off as soon as there’s the slightest break in conversation. So …
  • Practice! Practice what you might say, what words you might use, how you might describe certain acts, attributes or attitudes. Read articles or listen to speakers who can help you develop your language – it will help your child as well as increasing your confidence.

The myth of aroused curiosity.

Curiosity only exists in a void. It’s true, right? You are only curious about what you don’t know. Speaking about pornography or masturbation isn’t a guarantee that your child is going to go off and explore that more for themselves. They are far more likely to if there’s a gap in their understanding. If they haven’t asked the questions that they still have or if they haven’t fully understood what you’ve explained.

Tips

  • Ask comprehension questions “Can you tell me in your own words what I just explained?”.
  • Encourage active listening “Nod at me if you are following but stop me if I’ve said something that was a bit weird or confusing.”
  • Plan a follow up chat. “That seems like enough for now. How about we check in later once you’ve had a chance to process that some more?”
  • Monitor your child. If they have been disturbed or discomforted by what they’ve heard you might notice that in their behaviour, body language or responses.

What do you think? What have you found helpful or unhelpful in your own experience? What further information or discussion do you require to help you keep this conversation going (or to start it!)?

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talking to your KIDS about PORN before you’ve talked about SEX

11 years old. 

That’s the average age of a person’s first exposure to pornography. (In fact, some researchers are suggesting that age to be as young as 9.) 

For many it’s accidental – a misspelled URL, innocently inappropriate search term or a click on a banner ad. For some, it’s a friend at school or someone on the train. Because of the ease of accessibility it is almost impossible to predict or even prevent a child having an initial encounter with pornography. And so conversations to prepare them are important to have …early and repeatedly. 

Pornography is widely considered to be the number one sexual educator of our young people because children are engaging with porn before attending official “Sex Ed” classes and even before their personal curiosity has been aroused. Before their first kiss or their first crush they are being exposed to graphic sexual images and a type of sexuality that is so distorted as to bear little resemblance to healthy sexual intimacy (read 5 lies porn tells). 

So, what should we tell our kids?

At its most simply defined, pornography is videos or pictures of things that are intended to be private. The same understanding your children have of sexuality, reproduction and intimacy is the language you would use to help them know what the images or movies would be likely to depict. We teach our children about nudity, appropriate touching, understanding privacy and honouring ourselves and one another – these are the same principles we might use to speak of the inappropriate nature of pornography. 

TIPS :- 

Attempt to speak without embarrassment or awkwardness. 
Remember : language is power. Read blogs, books or articles by parenting, cyber safety or family experts to help develop your vocabulary and increase your confidence. 

Ask lots of questions to check their understanding and to ensure they’re confident with what they’ve heard. Curiosity only exists in a void. 

Express and demonstrate an openness to responding to further questions as your child might have them. (Which they will! Particularly as they grow in their own awareness and understanding they’ll want or need to know more as it relates to their growing knowledge and experience. Establishing yourself as someone who knows about this topic will increase the likelihood that they’ll come to you with further queries.)

Remember it’s not “the” talk but a continuing conversation. Don’t try and download everything you know or want them to know in one dump.

Fight for your kids. Let the strength of your desire to see your kids protected from the insidious and addictive influence of pornography and its consequences fuel you to push past any fear or embarrassment to do and say what is required to set your child up to win.  

why you should smile at strangers


4 year old Norah Woods, with the help of her mother, was the key player in a feel-good story that circled the internet earlier this year. She was at a local supermarket in Augusta, Georgia, when she struck up a conversation with an elderly man shopping alone. 

Her cheerful greeting immediately brightened the man’s disposition and started a precious friendship that has become significant for them both. 

It turns out that Dan had lost his wife only months before and was struggling in his aloneness. He reported that after their brief exchange in the supermarket aisle he was able to sleep well for the first time in a long time. 

Every day we walk by people with stories unknown to us. We don’t know the impact a simple smile or a brief interchange about the weather might have on another’s day. How we might completely alter a person’s mood or break into a negative self-talk cycle and change the trajectory of their day. 

I recently helped a lady to reach a basket from a higher shelf and got the entire story of how the bathroom at her place needed more storage and she doesn’t get to the shops very often and she is hoping it won’t rain this afternoon …and a whole lot of other unrelated pieces of information that told me she probably hadn’t had anyone much to talk to. 

For people who live alone you (at the shops, church, work or even passing by on the street) may be the only person they interact with in a day. Their first chance to speak out loud. Their only smile or laugh. Their only sense of their place in the world or connectedness to others. 

Norah’s boldness to first speak to Dan and then her insistence to follow him up with visits that include colouring in together and taking Dan food have positively impacted both of their families. But even without an ongoing relationship, the smile a simple interaction brought to Dan and the joy it brought to his heart were profoundly impacting. 

What about you? Look out for a person you can smile at or extend yourself to today. An empathetic exchange with a parent juggling kids, pausing to hear someone’s seemingly inane prattle, breaking into another’s frustration with a joke or even allowing someone else to help YOU with a door or your bags …the cost is relatively small (it really is) but the payoff could be huge!

Read more about Norah’s story here

an invitation to a sacred space

“Can I ask your opinion on something?” 

Just like that. Sitting across a cafe table. An invitation was extended to enter a very sacred space. 

Asking for another’s opinion is an act of great humility and vulnerability. Inviting someone’s comment on a decision, trusting someone with the concerns of your heart or mind, giving permission for another’s assessment of options you’re weighing up – these are all risky endeavours. 

You open yourself up to disagreement or conflict. You hand over your ability to claim ignorance on a different perspective. You reveal to the other that you know there’s a decision to be made. You invite a potentially higher degree of scrutiny of your actions on the issue. 

Invite others’ opinion. It’s an act of wisdom to seek wise counsel. Ask people who you trust to help you process decisions. Their distance from the issue can provide a more emotionally sober and unbiased perspective. Their wealth of experience and knowledge can be a great resource. And significantly, when opinions are invited they are likely to be more considered – minus the frustration of someone not feeling they have a chance to input. 

Recognise the sacred trust. If someone asks your opinion they have bestowed a great honour. They are communicating trust in you as a person and value in your wisdom. Tread gently, speak carefully; listen as well as speak. And be grateful. 

What about … Intimacy?

At iGnite 2 weeks ago I brought a message titled “What about … Intimacy?” – addressing issues of sexuality, relationship and intimacy from a Biblical perspective and with a heart to see a healthy culture in our church family at WBC around these issues. The link to that message is here.

I am regularly asked to speak to different churches, youth groups, parent nights and leadership teams on these issues as the Church continues to try and ‘reclaim’ a Biblical understanding of our sexuality and design for intimacy amidst the brokenness we experience in our search for love and in a world that values very little in respect to purity and honour.

Here is an excerpt from an article out of the Fuller Youth Institute in the States that gives some tips for parents looking to address these issues with their teens …

If you’re a leader or parent who finds it challenging to talk to young people about sex, try some of the following tips that have worked for me:

  1. Start by asking about friends’ behaviours and attitudes. If it feels too challenging to ask a young person about their own practices or attitudes, ask about “other kids at school” as a way to start the conversation.
  2. Use media, current events, or other resources as a springboard. Maybe even start the conversation by using the content of this blog as a door-opener.
  3. Choose the right time. Much of conversation with teenagers boils down to timing.
  4. Share about your own experiences. One of the themes in our Sticky Faith research is that wise parents share (not lecture!) about their own experiences in natural and organic ways. Without divulging every detail of your sexual past, perhaps your young person is ready to hear a bit about mistakes you made, or what you wish you’d done differently.
  5. Invite your young person to talk to another adult. If you’re a parent and it’s just too challenging to talk with your young person about sex, then figure out with your kid who they might be able to talk to.

Often there’s more happening sexually in young people’s lives and thoughts than we might realize. May this new study be a catalyst for better conversations about tough topics.

The full article can be accessed here.

We desire to be a support and resource to your families as you seek to navigate these tricky issues with your young people. Please do not hesitate to engage us in any way that is useful to you – pointing you in the direction of other resources, connecting your young person with a leader or mentor, chatting things out with you, connecting you with other parents who are a little ahead of you on the journey … however we can assist.