What most of us remember as “sex education” is now often called “family life.” It’s a curriculum devoted to human development, including the topics of sexuality and reproduction. Many parents rely on the school to cover what can be uncomfortable and sensitive subjects. So, for some kids, this is the only way they learn about sex. But now that schools are closed and parents are forced to become at-home substitute teachers, should parents teach sex education so kids don’t miss out on this vital information?
Talking About Sex
The short answer, is yes. And while having “the talk” can be daunting, experts agree that it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Believe it or not, research shows that young people actually want their parents and other supportive adults to talk with them about sex and relationships (even if they do roll their eyes or stay silent the whole time), and to know that they can come to you with questions,” says Dr. Sara C. Flowers, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She tells Parentology that a conversation about sex is not just a one-time thing. Parents ideally should be talking to their children about their bodies and development from an early age.
“As a parent, you should plan to have open, regular conversations with your children about sex, relationships, bodies, and identity from infancy through adulthood — it’s more than just ‘the talk,’” Flowers says.
Find Out What They Know
The best way to gauge what your child is ready to learn is to ask them what they know and listen to their answers. Rather than explaining things that may not even be on your child’s radar, let them lead you in the conversation.
Janet Coover, M.A. MFT, a credentialed school psychologist who has worked with children from elementary to high school suggests starting the conversations around age eight or nine. She suggests you meet your child where they are by asking them to tell you what they know or may have heard at school.
“Ask them what they think sex is because their definition may be very different from yours,” she suggests.
Coover also recommends that parents try to normalize the topic. Let your child know that sometimes it may feel uncomfortable to talk about sex and that’s perfectly okay, but it is important that you discuss it. Talk to your kids about what they may have heard at school from peers.
Dr. Flowers agrees and says it’s okay to acknowledge what may be an awkward situation. “If you’re nervous, you can even say that to them to break the ice — let them know that you know these conversations can feel awkward, but you care about them and want to support them anyway. You want to ensure that your young person knows they can come to you about anything and will be met with the support they need to make healthy decisions. The more you talk, the easier it will get over time.”
There is no shortage of resources for parents looking to start a conversation with their children about sex. Janet Coover recommends Birds and Bees and Kids for a list of resources that can help parents on their journey. Planned Parenthood also offers numerous resources on its “For Parents” website including a video series and a blog about sex education at home.
The most important thing is that you start the dialogue and keep it going.
“It’s not just a one-time gig and I think that’s what people want. It’s more of a systemic thing,” Coover warns.
Now that kids are missing some of this information from their school curriculum, Dr. Flowers states that parents’ roles are more vital than ever. “With schools and community centers closed due to COVID-19, parents and caregivers’ role as a sex educator for their own kids is even more essential now.”
Should Parents Teach Sex Education — Sources
Dr. Sara C. Flowers, Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America
Janet Coover, M.A. MFT, Credentialed School Psychologist