John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex.
Most parents treat the topic of sex as if it were nitroglycerin: acting like one wrong move means everything will explode! So it’s no surprise that they absolutely dread having those conversations with their kid. In the “Sex Talk” survey Family Circle and Planned Parenthood conducted and reported on this November, they found that more than 70% of parents wait until their child is 11 or older to talk about any topics related to sexuality. And even when they do chat with their kids, it’s not very frequent. In a survey of over 45,000 parents and children of divorce that I’m conducting on Dr. Phil’s website, parents frequently reported that they spoke with their kids about sex; however, most kids disclosed that they don’t recall any such conversations.
Why the anxiety? Parents reveal that their reluctance to talk about sex with their kids stem from embarrassment about their own experiences that tap into their own associations and baggage with sex. They also worry that they will convey wrong information or that merely raising the topic will encourage their child to engage in sexual acts. Parents need to distinguish between their concerns about sex and the needs of their child at the various stages of the child’s growth.
Studies show that parents who discuss sex in a loving and honest way actually decrease the likelihood that their child will engage in sexual activity. In fact, kids who share a good relationship with their parents and can honestly discuss their concerns about sex, dating, and love are less influenced by peer behavior regarding drugs, alcohol, and sex and report less depression and anxiety and more self-reliance and self-esteem. These kids are also more successful in school and develop more meaningful relationships. Such studies confirm that the quality and importance of our communications at home strongly influences our children’s life.
Remember: You don’t have to pretend that you know it all. If you’re natural about any uncertainty yet show that you are willing to learn as you go along, you set the stage for an honest relationship with your child. Providing accurate information and details is important, however, it’s more critical to express interest, support, and openness and respond to your child’s needs.
Parents need to demystify sex and guide their kids to manage the physical aspects of sexuality and support their children’s emotional, social, relational and spiritual sexual growth. We need to help our kids make the connections between intimacy and love and understand healthy relationships. If we don’t take effective action to communicate with our kids, they can’t be expected to make effective decisions—and they will go elsewhere to find answers.
Parents go to extraordinary lengths to nurture, strengthen and support their kids—academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. It’s not okay to leave your child to fend for himself regarding his or her sexual development. Parents need to reclaim their role as their child’s guide concerning sex. By communicating with our kids, in an age appropriate manner, from infancy through adolescence about sex, we will come through for them on concerns when our children need us most.
John T. Chirban, Ph.D., Th.D. is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk With Your Kids About Sex, which clarifies what kids need at each stage of development and how parents can effectively communicate. For more information, go to drchirban.com and sexualproblems.com.
Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.