Having “The Talk” about puberty and sex is a source of great anxiety for many parents. Questions like “When is the right time?” and “What in the world do I say?” roll through our minds constantly as our children grow older. Handling these topics well is incredibly important for our children’s future emotional and physical health.
It’s time we move from one, perhaps unavoidably awkward one-way “talk,” to an ongoing conversation that can strengthen bonds and provide our children with the framework to make healthy decisions for a lifetime.
Every child is different and sons have different needs than daughters. Each conversation should be tailored to your child, including consideration of their level of development and individual needs.
Here are a few tips for approaching the conversation during different stages of your daughter’s life:
Pre-adolescence (8 to 9 years old)
Start talking when her body starts changing, or even before. For many girls, this age is about 8 years old. If she’s already heard from you that she’ll start to feel and look different and that this is normal, she’ll be less likely to be surprised or confused when those changes happen. Hearing it from you first will also help her avoid having to piece together separate bits of information on her own from friends or elsewhere, which could lead to false assumptions.
This is not the age to begin talking about sex. Focus on body changes and ensure she knows it’s not just her going through them. She should also understand that her body is different from everyone else’s and that everyone develops in different ways and at different speeds. For a while, she may be the only one going through this (or the only one not experiencing it), but that is temporary. She’s moving toward what will eventually be her adult body and that too will be unique.
Adolescence (10 to 12 years old)
Bring sex into the conversation as your daughter gets a little older. At this stage, the conversation should begin to include topics like what sex is and what happens during sex. Remember that you set the tone of this conversation. Sex is not embarrassing and shouldn’t be presented as such. Use humor to lighten the mood but be sure to provide accurate information. Teen years
When your daughter becomes a teenager and you’ve already laid the foundation, this is the time to begin talking about your family’s values. What is important to your family? What are your expectations for your daughter in this regard? Teenagers often cite their parents as the reason they make certain decisions about sex. Make sure they know your values.
College years and beyond
Always keep the conversation going. Make sure your daughter knows she can talk to you about these topics whenever she feels the need to. The lines of communication should always be open. Be sure she understands this means even if the topic is awkward or potentially embarrassing.