4 Mistakes Parents Make When Talking to Their Children About Sex


There are few things a parent dreads more than “the talk.” Talking about sex can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. And let’s face it, many parents simply don’t know how to go about it. Their parents never talked to them, so they’re unprepared for such a pivotal conversation. Mistakes are made and children may get the wrong impression from their parents. Exploring those mistakes can help you avoid them and have the kind of discussion you want.

Common Sex-Talk Mistakes 

1. Starting too late.Many parents wait until they feel like there’s a reason to be worried. For example, their teenage daughter starts dating an older boy and suddenly it feels like it’s time for the sex talk. Or they find a condom under their son’s bed – again, it’s time for the talk. The truth is that the best time to begin talking to your child about sex is way before they’re thinking about it. Many experts recommend going over the basics when a child is around eight or nine. Children know a lot more than we think they know and if they’re able to get the facts from their parents, then they’re less likely to believe rumors and information from their friends and the Internet.

2. Passing harsh judgments.Children hear what you say when you talk about sex and sexual situations. If you’re harsh or judgmental, they may take that information in and feel badly about themselves. For example, you may express something negative about masturbation. Should your child have tried it, they may feel dirty or judged. They won’t be as likely to be honest with you about sex or to come to you with questions.

3. Not answering questions when they’re asked.According to Dr. Laura Berman, children ask questions when they’re ready to know the answers. If you’re uncomfortable answering the question or you try to put them off until you think they’re ready, they may not only go elsewhere for the information, they may not come to you for information next time.

Related: 4 Ways to Help Your Teen Prepare for College

4. Not being honest.It’s important to be honest with yourself about your feelings related to your child’s sexuality. It’s also important to be honest with your child. If you’re uncomfortable talking with your child about something, tell them that. Children don’t expect you to be perfect or to have all the answers. However, when you answer their questions honestly and respectfully, you’re better able to have an open conversation.

Talking about sex is difficult. Your children are precious and you don’t want them rushing things, making mistakes, or having regrets. It’s important to be prepared for questions as soon as they’re able to begin talking. It may begin with simple identification of parts. The more you’re able to answer their questions early on, the easier it will be for them to come to you when they have more difficult or intimate questions.

2 Responses to 4 Mistakes Parents Make When Talking to Their Children About Sex

  1. Paul Gemmell January 5, 2016 at 7:46 am #

    Good advice! When I was a kid, about 40 years ago, our family had the boooks “Where do i come from” and “What’s Happening to me?” which were cartoon books about reproduction for kids. The first was about how babies are made, and the second was geared to one’s own puberty. I now have these books for my son. We first read them together when he was about 6 or 7. They are excellent and a great way to deal with #1 on Pam’s list. Non-threatening or intimidating. Just facts and truth about something basic in the animal kingdom.

    I think when things like this are introduced it’s the parent’s anxiety that gets in the way, not the kids. The kids have some anxiety, naturally, but it doesn’t have to get in the way if the parents are calm. Normalize good sexual thoughts/practices while they are in a place to absorb it without all the social baggage, and build slowly from there, year by year.

  2. Whirled Peas March 15, 2016 at 9:17 am #

    I can’t say enough good things about the Our Whole Lives (OWL) program.

    Beyond “the talk” I think it helps to be prepared for social pressure to behave a certain way. Both the boys and girls benefited from role play in which they stood up for themselves against unwanted advances (and to understand how it feels when someone is being manipulative or demeaning rather than respectful). It also helps young teens to know when they might be engaging in behaviors that signal unintended messages (hair twirling, flirting, etc) so that they don’t find themselves in situations they are not ready for, and do not wish to invite.

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