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
THE DILEMMA: My 6-year-old son walked up to a girl and said, “I want to have sex with you!”
WHAT TO SAY: “Your son probably has no idea what the word [sex] means, so if you come down hard on him, it will be frightening and confusing,” says Kilbourne. Ask him why he said it and what he thinks it means. Chances are he doesn't know, so you can give him an age-appropriate definition. “Explain that the word ‘sex’ is used by grown-ups to talk about something only grown-ups do,” suggests Lydia Shrier, M.D., a physician in the Adolescent/Young Adult Clinic at Children's Hospital Boston.
Encourage your son to talk to you about words he doesn't understand. Since the source of many of these words is television, it may be helpful if you watch his favorite TV shows and movies with him, and discuss what he sees and hears. In fact, a study showed that when parents watch a show and discuss it with their kids, they can influence the way children interpret the sexual messages on TV. Even shows young children watch, such as iCarly, Zoey 101, andVictorious, contain subtle sexual messages. “Kids are confused about the messages they're getting from TV,” says Levin. “We're blaming children for saying and doing things that make perfect sense given what they're exposed to. Adults need to stop punishing kids and help them try to understand what's going on.”
That strategy worked for Christina Diehl when her 6-year-old son, Erich, told a girl at a family cookout that she was sexy. Diehl took him aside and calmly asked if he knew what the word meant. He thought about it for a minute and said, “She's pretty.” Diehl told Erich she'd rather he used the word “pretty.” “I said, ‘We don't use the word ‘sexy’ when we talk to girls,’” recalls the mom of two from Long Valley, NJ. “I was upset because he didn't know what the word meant. I'm worried that he will continue to say things he doesn't understand, and people will get angry.”