This is part three of a three-part series on talking to your children about sex.
The Third Stage: Ages 9-12
Puberty is a time of dramatic change and mystery. Prepare and guide your child through these changes.
If you have not talked with your child about issues related to sex before this stage of development, do not feel like you are a terrible parent. You are in the majority. But it is not too late. Start small and work toward larger issues.
Hormones & Body Changes
Physically, children are reaching sexual maturity at much younger ages than they did in the past. Children go through a process of biological development called puberty between the ages of 8 and 16. Normal changes may begin as early as 8 for girls and as early as 9 for boys. The average age for puberty to begin for boys is between 11 and 12 and for girls it is between 10 and 11.
These changes can be frightening. Your child will feel things that she has not felt before. Prepare your child for these changes. Do not wait for her to ask questions. Questions will arise, but this is a time you need to initiate the conversation.
It is imperative that mothers teach daughters about menstruation and what to expect. Talk to them about how this is a natural part of life and God's way of preparing them to be mothers. It is OK to talk honestly about how you feel during your premenstrual and menstrual time. Your attitude will have an impact on how your daughters view their own bodies.
Dads need to talk with sons about sexual feelings, biological drives, erections, and "wet dreams." These experiences are preparing your son for manhood, to be a father, and are completely normal. It is a time to have conversations about channeling sexual energy. Help your son know that while masturbation is normal, it is something that can lead to greater dangers. A man must guard his fantasy life, be patient, and remain pure for his future wife. Similar discussions will need to happen about pornography and its dangers.
Even though your child might not be as comfortable with your hugs and distances himself, do not be afraid to touch him in appropriate ways. The rapid physical changes of puberty cause many of the psychosocial changes.
A Safe Place
Emotionally, preadolescence is a volatile time. Conflicts between you and your child may be at a peak. However, you have laid the foundation for discussing emotions, build on it. Model the expression of emotions. Monitor how your child feels about herself. Affirm your child for her appearance. Help her with basic grooming and appearance issues.
The Opposite Sex
Relationally, these are days of uncertainty. As your child seeks to be "independent," she will feel compelled to conform to social behaviors. Recent studies indicate an alarming rise in sexual behaviors, even among Christians. Many adolescents are engaging in sexual behaviors, such as oral sex, thinking this maintains their virginity.
Tell children positive reasons not to participate in these socially accepted behaviors along with the the negative consequences. Talk about waiting for marriage. This vision must include the belief that it is only in the act of committed marriage that sex is really fulfilling. Inform children that those who wait are following God's plan.
Members of the opposite sex may seem like mysteries. Therefore, the opposite sex parent may want to talk with a child about what girls or boys are like, what they are going through, and how both struggle with feelings of being attractive and accepted.
Spiritually, this is the time to surround children with the fellowship of the church. Church can be a place of like-minded children who support and encourage each other in their walk with God. It is important for a child to feel included and learn biblical messages about how God loves him and wants him to live.
Guide a Safe Sex Chat
- Look for "teachable moments." Be a teacher. There are many sexual stimuli in the world today, and there will be times when you can have a calm, rational conversation with your child about those. What do you want your child to know and how does it fit into the larger picture of sexuality? There will be other normal experiences of life that will offer the same opportunity.
- Listen for the hidden questions. Parents often wait for their children to ask specific questions about sex, but children may have difficulty knowing what questions to ask. Listen for symbolic meanings of questions. Tune into hidden anxieties, fears, and confusions.
- Be positive. Emphasize the healthy model of God's design for our bodies, emotions, relationships, and dependence on Him. Give your children a vision of marriage.
- Never talk when you are angry. Speaking out of anger usually turns into shaming or the appearance of being disgusted with sex or with your child.
- Do not put off answers forever. It is OK to take some time before you react when your child has asked an important question or you have discovered some form of sexual activity. Take time to consider and pray about an answer with your child. Be aware of your own feelings about the questions at hand, particularly how your own story might be affecting your feelings or reaction. Talk to other adults if you need clarity about your answers.
- Do not force your child to talk. There will be times when information must be given. Do not always expect your child to respond or discuss the topic. He will be listening more than you know.
- Tell stories. Use your own life stories and those of others. A story will get the point across better than anything else. Even if you are embarrassed about your own story, your child is likely to identify and be comforted with your struggles.
- Talk with your child along with your spouse. Do not assume that one parent will talk with the child, especially to the same sex child. There can be important modeling. If both Mom and Dad are comfortable talking to their child together, they will be modeling an openness of communication.
- Remember all people make mistakes. Accept the fact that you are probably doing a much better job than your parents did talking about sex. Even if you do not always say the right things, your child will thank you (probably sometime after they have children) for doing your best.