Having the Sex Talk: Is Your Tween Too Sexy Too Soon?
How to have the sex talk with your tween, plus how to handle 5 dilemmas on kids' sexuality
Studies have shown that girls who are obsessed with their appearance are more likely to start smoking, become depressed, and develop an eating disorder as they get older. When girls reach the teen years, those who value themselves only for their sexual attractiveness are more likely to do risky things, such as avoiding using condoms during sex, since they're not comfortable asserting themselves in sexual situations. These girls are also less able to focus on academic tasks and physical activities.
Boys, meanwhile, are getting the message that they need to have an attractive girlfriend to be accepted. And those boys who feel they need to appear sexually active and tough to be considered cool may become depressed if they don't measure up.
Thinking of the opposite sex in a romantic way at a young age is harmful because it sets kids up for earlier sexual activity and deprives them of friendship, says Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., coauthor of So Sexy So Soon. “When kids judge each other based on their looks, they don't learn how to have caring, connected relationships,” she adds. Both boys and girls may be at risk of developing body-image problems and loss of self-esteem if they strive to look sexy when they're still too young.
The good news is you can help your child navigate these minefields. “Kids are more connected to their parents than the media, so your message has more power,” says Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., author of Packaging Girlhood and professor of education at Colby College, in Waterville, ME. You don't need to have all the answers; simply acknowledging the pressures your child is facing is enough. The goal is to keep the lines of communication open so that when bigger issues come up, your child will feel safe talking with you, says Brown.
Here, parents and experts share their strategies for tackling some of the most troubling sexual dilemmas kids are facing today.