The objective of this article is to acquaint readers with the kinds of issues that interest preteens and ways to discuss them.
By: Susan Adams, M. Ed.
Conversations with Preteens About Sex
Summary: Many confusions exist for preteens about sex and it is important to straighten them out. In addition, issues of social and emotional adjustment are present.
We need to be aware of how our nonverbal behavior influences our children as well where sex is concerned. This article is a discussion of these issues.
"Can you have a baby when you kiss a boy?" This kind of question, common at this age, points up the kind of confusions that exist for preteens. It is why we can't take anything for granted when we go to explain the biological facts about sex.
However, information and misinformation are only one aspect of sex education. More significantly, the attitudes that are both conscious and unconscious that are transmitted from parent to child greatly affect our children's attitudes about sex.
Not all parents today completely accept their own sexuality and children often sense whatever hang-ups may be present. We need to be aware of our own attitudes and beliefs so that we can transmit the messages that we believe are healthy to our children.
A healthy attitude toward sex would recognize the necessity for helping children accept their sex drives and feelings as normal and that everyone has them. This is positive. These feelings and drives need to be managed so that people don't get into patterns of simply acting out what they are feeling without restraint. This is true for behaviors other than sex. That is, we are teaching "mindfulness" to our children as we need to practice it ourselves. This means making conscious decisions about what we do in response to what we feel. This is related to thinking about consequences of our behavior.
Sexuality, in its broadest sense, needs to be seen as not just a biological phenomenon, but as an important part of personality and closely related to social and emotional development.
Other major sources of sex education are family values and relationships that develop steadily over the formative years of our children. Parents reach out to their children in love and the loving feels warm. This is how children develop the capacity for affection and the capacity to love which is, possibly, the most important ingredient for healthy sexuality.
Thus, basic attitudes added to family values really educate for sexuality and are the outcome of living, loving, and learning in the family.
Children need information as well. Sometimes parents are uneasy about answering questions about sex. If parents are uneasy, children pick up the awkwardness. It may be useful for parents in this position to explain to children that sex may not have been freely talked about when they were growing up. Hence, they are trying to provide an experience that they, the parent, didn't have. This makes the awkwardness less and understandable at the same time, and casts a lovely light on the intent of the parent to improve things with their own child.
Giving children straight and honest answers has always been important. There is so much coming from the media in the way of sexual comments and images which reflect values that we abhor that sound information given by thoughtful adults can help separate truth from fiction and health from bizarre. If you don't know the answer, it is fine to say that and propose that "we find out together."
If parents want to be truly helpful, they must find out what children really know and what confuses them. This is the way we fill in gaps of understanding. Don't make the situation a question and answer experience. Make it a conversation.
Answer questions in a manner that is age-appropriate. A question about masturbation needs an answer about masturbation and not abut sexual intercourse. Having a knowledge about preteens and where they are in their sexual development is a useful guide. Your local library can help you find informative books on the subject.
Most of all, preteens are concerned about their changing or not-changing bodies. This would make them anxious even if they did all change at the same time. However, with everyone growing at a different rate, the concern is magnified. The anxiety gets expressed in many ways. There are preoccupations with being ugly, with malformed babies, with miscarriages, homosexuality, and sex-change operations.
These preoccupations are in part due to the preteen"s curiosity with the unusual but also reflect the preteen's concerns with ,"can this happen to me?" Reassurance is important here that though these things do happen, they are rare and that some of the bizarre stories the child has heard are just myth.
Many girls worry that they will menstruate for the fir time unexpectedly-at school-and will be embarrassed. Reassuring them that the total discharge during four to five days only averages about four ounces--a half a cup--and starts quite slowly is enough to slow the anxiety for most girls.
Some boys worry that the nocturnal emissions that they experience are somehow not quite normal and others worry that they are not experiencing them at all and that this is abnormal. Reassurance is needed here. It is all normal. People are different and everyone matures at a different rate--but people Do mature.
So reassurance, normalizing feelings, and explanations about body changes characterize the overall picture for conversations about sexuality at this age. Being able to comment on your own sensitivities will help make the conversations with your preteen less confusing and it should all have a good outcome!