I’ve watched parents raise children for 30 years (and raised four of my own), so I know how hard it is.
Here, I share a question that came to me as a pediatrician, as well as my answer to this parent. It might be helpful to other parents as they navigate these issues.
Dear Dr. Meg,
I have two young children, ages six and four. I think it’s too early to give my oldest “the talk,” but some of my friends are already doing this with their six- and seven-year-olds. They say that since our culture is so over-sexualized, it’s important to talk about it with our kids while they are young.
But I don’t think my son (the six-year-old) is ready.
While “the talk” is absolutely crucial, it will likely not be only “a talk,” as in, one and done.
How young is too young to talk to your child about sex?
Dear Confused Parent,
I get this question very often. When it comes to when to give your child the talk, the answer is easy: when your child persists in asking questions about it.
When your son asks questions about words like “sex” or “kissing” or things that moms and dads do, he’s ready to hear about sex.
Children typically begin to ask these questions around age seven or eight. This is when they will start hearing things at school from kids in their class who have older siblings, or who have more access to social media and the internet.
Once your child starts asking a lot of questions and they don’t let up, it’s time for you to have some answers about sex. If you brush them off, your child will think you’re not the one to talk to about sex. And you don’t want them thinking that and then going to someone else.
One thing I think it is important for parents to understand is that while “the talk” is absolutely crucial and inevitable, it will likely not be only “a talk,” as in, one and done. The sooner you establish yourself as the safe, trusted, go-to person for your children’s questions about their bodies and sex, the more likely they are to come to you with their questions as they get older and the questions get more complicated. If you’re doing it right, “the talk” will likely be a healthy, ongoing dialogue about sex that your kids know they can have with you.
I agree that six is too young, and while I believe parents need to teach their kids about sex before the culture can, I also believe you should never parent out of fear. Parents should not have the talk with their child when he is too young only because they are afraid of the hyper-sexualized culture we live in. Instead, they should protect their children from exposure to sexually charged media, movies, etc.
Talking to a child about sex when he is too young can be traumatizing, so parents must use their instincts and best judgement to take the cues and know when to begin talking to their kids about sex, letting them take the lead in their own time.
You can expect your son to begin questioning you about sex-related topics in a year or two — so watch for his curiosity to begin.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practiced pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including “The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.”