On this National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, guest blogger Michelle Edelman shares the surprisingly early sex talk she had to have with her 3rd-grader and where other moms can get help finding the right words to say.
I remember learning about sex from a Judy Blume novel that was covertly passed around my class in the corner of the public library. Later that year, my 6th grade teacher Mrs. Briggin sat us all in a circle and gave us a very matter-of-fact, anatomical explanation of sex. One of my classmates was so overcome with emotion during the discussion that she stabbed my leg with her #2 pencil. I then became secretly worried that I would die of lead poisoning and missed a good bit of what Mrs. Briggin said after that point!
Chances are you first learned about sex in some shrouded, fragmented way too. You probably also found yourself unprepared for the inevitable social situations at the intersection of Hormone Street and Sheer Panic Avenue. It’s likely the little threads of facts about “what goes where” left you woefully inadequate when it came to the real issues: Are you ready for this emotionally and physically? Are you prepared to take care of yourself? Do you even know this person? What do you expect to get out of this experience?
Now is a scary time to be raising tweens and teens. I have two daughters, ages 11 and 15. The pressure to be sexualized at a young age is everywhere. It has always been present in music and pop culture influences. But now with mobile phones and other digital devices, these influences are constant. Forbes Magazine reported that the average age a kid first sees a porn image is 11. “Sex” and “porn” are the #4 and #6 most popular searches on Google performed by kids. But they’ll see all sorts of images anyway, as they are preparing book reports or looking for Club Penguin because the images are so prevalent across the Internet.
When my youngest was 9, she asked me to buy her a book from the American Girl Company called The Care and Keeping of You. I heard “American Girl” and blindly ordered this book on Amazon. This is a company I respect. They taught our kids bits of history through the eyes of fictional girls with integrity and great values. So I didn’t think twice. Until our daughter announced that she thought her “hormonies” were not working. It was then I found out that she was reading a full-on manual about teen bodies, complete with drawings! This was only a surprise because I had not prepared myself for my then-3rd grader to be so ready to have frank talks about her body and sex.
But I’ve come to realize that healthy sexuality—especially the decision-making around intimacy—starts with healthy conversations at our homes. It will never be comfortable for people who are parents right now to relate to the world of our “digital native” kids. Fortunately there are tools out there that will help us facilitate conversation. It’s National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and the folks at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy have decided to bail us parents out. Check out this quiz for your teen. These questions get to the heart of the matter for kids. No matter how much “fact” our children accumulate, nothing can take the place of open conversation about what might happen when those facts are put to the test by peer pressure and the random chaos that is created by kids and technology. You might not be in control of what and when your kids learn about the facts of the sexual experience, but you can provide an open environment where it’s OK to share and talk about the pressures of being a teen. And those discussions can make all the difference.
Michelle Edelman is the CEO and Director of Strategy of NYCA, a San Diego-based advertising agency.