August 11, 2008

Q&A: Age Appropriate Sex Education

Question about age appropriate sex education from a parent who wants to know when their child will start to ask questions.

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Question: As the parent of a young child, I’m trying to figure out how to raise my child to feel good about their sexuality but don’t know where to start. When will my child become curious about sexuality? And at what ages does it become appropriate to talk to my child about sex and bodies and how girls and boys are different?

This is a common dilemma that many parents face, and it’s tricky – after all, many parents never received accurate sex education themselves when they were growing up, and that can make it feel confusing about how to provide reliable information to their children, who they want all the best things in the world for.

We Know More Than We Used To

Add to that the fact that things have changed since parents were growing up. Sure, the basics are still the same in terms of how girls and boys bodies are different, but we know more about bodies and sex than we used to, and parents may find themselves having to learn new information so that they can talk to their children.

Children become curious about sexuality at different ages – some ask questions about body parts and how babies are made when they are very young, maybe three or four, and other children may not become interested in these topics until they are somewhat older.

So parents have a few things to balance, including their child’s interest and readiness to learn, as well what information parents think their children absolutely need.

Age And Developmentally Appropriate

Sex educators tend to stress teaching children and teenagers about topics that are both age and developmentally appropriate. When they are very young, sexuality education is more focused on teaching children accurate names for their body parts, and then when they are a little older, teaching them the difference between good touches and bad touches, and adults who they can trust to touch or talk to about their bodies.

Parents sometimes talk to their children about how babies are made when children are around ages 4, 5 or 6, but families vary – some children get this talk at younger or older ages than others.

Sometimes parents wait to share this information until children ask, and other times parents feel that they want to let their children hear the information directly from them – rather than perhaps hear an incorrect version on the playground.

Choosing what to tell your children about sexuality and bodies – and when – is something that can cause anxiety and confusion among parents, as they attempt to bridge each of their own personal, cultural or family values with accurate and appropriate information.

Sex Education Resources For Parents

Fortunately, there are several resources available to parents including the book From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children from Infancy to Middle School, by Dr. Debra Haffner, and the Families are Talking newsletters, available through the web site of the Sexuality Information and Education Network of the United States.

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