Published April 16, 2009
Openness crucial when
talking sex with kids
Experts say sex talks need to
begin sooner and evolve over time
as children get more
The idea of talking with
children about sex and teen pregnancy is enough to send
many parents into an uncontrollable sweat. Discussing
the science of it — and at the same time addressing the
moral ramifications and possible outcomes of engaging in
sexual acts — can seem overwhelming.
But with one in four high
school girls becoming pregnant by their senior year and
one out of five middle school students engaging in oral
sex before their freshman year, now is not the time to
pretend the activity is not happening. Barb Barrett, a
health educator at the Robert Crown Center in Hinsdale,
said in today’s society, with peer pressures on children
mounting, it’s more important than ever to have an open
dialogue with kids regarding sexual behavior and teen
Q: What is an appropriate age
to start talking with your children about sex?
A: I would recommend starting
to discuss it at 6 years old. A lot of parents say
they’re going to talk with their kids about sex, but it
has to also be about values and their character. It
can’t just be about sex because that’s when it becomes
alienated. Talking with your kids about sex is an
evolving process that can become more in-depth as they
grow older and the topics are age appropriate. I would
say you can get into the nitty gritty information around
Q: How can parents know what’s
appropriate to discuss at what ages?
A: It has to cater to the
child’s needs. Some children are going to be ready to
learn more at a different age than others. Basically
you’ve got to find out what they’re curious about. As
they get into their junior high and teen years, we have
to give them more information than what they request
because there is more out there than they’re willing to
Q: Why is it important for
information on sex to come from parents?
A: Parents are the most
influential factors with teens. Parents don’t think so —
they think peers have more of an influence. But in
studies, children have said 37 percent of their
influence comes from parents and only 33 from their
peers. Ninety percent of students said they feel they
would make better choices if they had open communication
with their parents about sex, but most parents say
they’re uncomfortable discussing it. Only one-third of
children surveyed said they have had discussions with
Q: How can parents become more
comfortable with the subject of sex and pregnancy?
A: I think parents just need
to be really honest, and if they’re uncomfortable, tell
their kids that. They can say, “This is not easy for me
to discuss” and kids will be empathetic about that. I
have found talking to your kids while in the car is a
good way to go about it. You don’t have to have the
serious eye contact. It takes off the pressure, and the
kids can’t run away from the conversation. I also tell
parents a good time to talk to them is late at night.
They’re calmer and they don’t have outside things coming
Q: If you suspect your child
is engaging in sexual activity, how do you bring it up?
A: They should try to ask
about it in a non threatening manner. Saying, “I think
you’re having sex” is not going to go the right way. You
could say something along the lines of, “I feel like at
your high school or junior high kids are becoming more
sexually active and I’m concerned for you.” Parents need
to do a lot of listening and a lot less judging, and
that’s hard. Kids appreciate a degree of honesty.
Q: What should a parent do if
their child comes to them and says he or she is having
A: It really depends on their
family morals and values, but we try to give students
objective information. We talk bluntly about teen
pregnancy. Seventy-five percent of girls who get
pregnant in high school will not graduate, and most teen
moms will be on welfare within five years.
Q: Often times teens will
think, “That won’t happen to me.” How do you get them to
see they’re not invincible?
A: First, I tell them, “This
isn’t your fault. At your age your brain is working in
this way right now. It makes you feel like you’re
immortal.” But then I’ll point to them and say one out
of the four of you will get a sexually transmitted
disease. Kids today are under a huge amount of pressure.
The only thing they’re being pressured to engage in more
than sex is drinking. Even if you think you have the
perfect child that isn’t partaking in sexual activity,
it’s still crucial to talk with them about sex because
it’s happening all around them.
Q: Should the sex talk be a
A: No, it should be ongoing.
Parents should look for opportunities to discuss it.
Maybe you’re watching TV or the news and something comes
up about it. Take that opportunity and say, “So what do
you think about that?” And it’s never too early to
Many middle school kids are
engaging in oral sex. Some are doing it to fit in, and
some think it’s a way of putting off going further. They
don’t realize they can catch an STD from it. Two-thirds
of high school grads have said they regret sexual
experiences they’ve had. Everyone falls to pressures.
This effects every demographic.
Making a Difference is a yearlong
partnership between The Hinsdalean
and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education, which
to teach and motivate youth to lead healthy, happy and