Dear Dr. Jenni,
My sister’s kids are staying with us for a week. They are the same age as my kids, 5 and 7. They play these sexually charged games, like doctor-nurse. I caught them doing this. Her kids also talk in graphic ways. At bath time,
the 7-year-old named his penis and scrotum. I’m really unnerved by this. My sister claims she is just educating her kids and I need to learn to calm down. But I don’t want to negatively affect my kids. I’m honestly terrified of being a bad mother.
Mother in Crisis
Simply asking these difficult and important questions demonstrates good mothering. Many parents in U.S. society grapple with the topic of how to talk to kids about sex: what to say, when to say it, and what are the repercussions. You are certainly not alone in feeling unnerved by this.
That said, feel assured that the behavior and language your sister’s children demonstrate is completely normal and appropriate for their age. Though many 7-year-old boys may not be able to name their scrotum, knowing the full spectrum of their anatomy will only serve to empower them.
To further educate yourself on what to say and when to say it, I suggest buying a book on child lifespan development, then teach your kids everything you can! Consider where you got your sex education and if you felt well educated and equipped. Do you want the same experience for your children? If it doesn’t come from you, it will come from someone else. Would you rather be that source of knowledge, or defer that responsibility to the Internet and their peer group?
As for repercussions, there is extensive evidence-based research illustrating that when parents talk to their children about sex early and often, the onset of sexual activity is delayed. When you strip the mystery out of something, then it doesn’t seem as forbidden and alluring. There will still be a curiosity, for certain, but it will be an educated exploration. You will be giving your kids the gift of knowledge.
They will recognize the need for precautions against pregnancy and STDs and be open to the rewards of intimacy and pleasure.
Dear Dr. Jenni,
I found a package of condoms in my son’s gym bag last week. He’s only 15 years old. I haven’t said anything because I don’t want to embarrass him, but I’m nervous he’s having sex — and he’s way too young to be doing so! Should I hold my tongue? Should I protect his privacy?
Curious about condoms
Respecting privacy is a very personal choice each parent must assess for themselves. If your son had an old sandwich in his gym bag, you may just roll your eyes and murmur to yourself that he is being a typical adolescent. But if he had drugs in his bag, you would most likely broach his privacy and say something.
Again, butting in on your child’s business may be essential at times and unnecessary at others. Perhaps your son is toting condoms to look cool. Or perhaps he is stockpiling for an evening with his honey. Either way, he’s practicing safe sex, which is always a plus!
If you take away the condoms and tell him he’s too young to engage in sex, then he might rebel and do so anyway, sans condoms.
Talking to him about sex can never hurt, whether or not you bring up the condoms. It’s an important conversation to have and an opportunity to express your values. He still may not abide by your wishes, but he certainly won’t have the option to do so if you don’t clarify what they are.
Send questions for Jenni Skyler, PhD, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Skyler is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist who runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.
Send questions for Jenni Skyler to email@example.com.]