Sex Education 2.0: 7 Ways to Teach Children About the Birds and the Bees
by Tim Jordan M.D.
When most parents think about their role in educating their children about sex, they get stuck on "the talk", i.e. the birds and the bees discussion that is all about mechanics. And this makes even the most hip parent a bit queasy.
Parents today have been inundated with scary stories about teen pregnancy, STDs, AIDS, and early dalliances with oral sex. Or perhaps worse yet, your own stories from your teen years come back to our consciousness, and we don't want our kids to suffer through our mistakes or rock with our wild times. So what's a parent to do?
I believe that the majority of sex education should be relationship education, and this teaching starts in the preschool years. Here are 7 ideas that can serve as your instruction manual.
- Building solid relationships at home: Children's first connections are usually at home with parents and siblings. If parents are there for their child, consistently meeting their needs in healthy ways, kids grow up feeling loved, important, safe, accepted for who they are, and able to trust other people. This becomes the template for all future relationships, so it pays to get a good start. Teens who feel loved have the best boundaries with other people, because they know they deserve to take good care of themselves.
- Learn and practice relationship skills at home: Kids can learn to have a voice, be assertive, resolve their own conflicts, set boundaries, stand up for themselves, and get their needs met with their parents and siblings. There are more than enough opportunities to teach these skills and provide chances for practicing them. Kids will then take these tools with them to school and use them with their peers, solidifying the lessons and giving them confidence that they can take care of themselves. Thus, their friendships are healthy and fulfilling. Eventually they will employ these same skills when they are in dating relationships. It will be easier for these teens to make the tough choices and set good boundaries since they have been doing it since they were toddlers.
- Don't push kids to grow up!: I always cringe when I hear adults teasing little kids, especially girls, about whether or not they have a boyfriend. Too many girls get the message that they should have one, and if they don't they are abnormal and behind. Let kids come to that stage in their life when they are ready.
- Strengthen their self-love: The more you love and appreciate yourself, the easier it is to set clear and strong boundaries, both sexually and relationally. I love to see girls who are passionately engaged in an interest, because this gives them confidence, fulfillment, and an identity that is not about how they look. Girls also get a boost in their confidence and self-love when they know how to voice their thoughts, needs, and concerns with authority, have healthy ways to express all of their emotions, don't worry so much about what other people think of them, and don't compare themselves to other people. They are true to themselves, and carry themselves with pride. Girls who radiate this energy are usually not pushed by boys. Needy girls with poor esteem are the ones I worry about most.
- Teach teens how to connect in non-sexual ways: Deep conversations, holding hands, hugs, back rubs, sports, and being a trusting and loyal friend allows teens to feel loved and close to people they are attracted to. Kids who have grown up in this sex-saturated culture need alternatives.
- Use everyday events: A pregnant classmate, relationship and sexual situations in books, TV shows and movies, news stories about naughty politicians and professional athletes all provide grist for the mill. Discuss these life events, ask kids what they think about it, listen to their logic without judgment, give them your perspective and other ways of looking at situations, and gently, with their permission, add your wisdom and values to the mix. Judging others for their sexuality and experiences closes the door to your teenager opening up to you. When kids feel heard and respected, they are more likely to listen and take things in.
- Trust your gut: Many teens I see in my counseling practice and camps have put up with abusive treatment and let their boundaries get crossed because they didn't hear and trust their intuition. Teach your kids how to be aware of their internal alarms that go off at critical decision points, and how to get quiet to go inward in order to know what is right for them. I teach girls to get clear about their sexual boundaries when they are alone and quiet, so that when they are in the back seat of a car, they won't make bad choices in the heat of the moment.
Teens with a high level of self-love, confidence, self-awareness, good relationships skills, and years of practice in creating close, healthy connections will be in charge of their romantic relationships, and they will deal with sexuality on their terms.
About the Author:
Dr. Tim Jordan is a leading expert on parenting girls from 2 - 20 years of age. He is the author is Sleeping Beauties, Awakened Women: Guiding Transformation of Adolescent Girls. He is also an international speaker, media expert and school consultant. He often speaks about girls and their journey through adolescence, relationship aggression, friendship, cliques and bullying and the best practices for parenting girls. For more information visit www.drtimjordan.com.
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