Enjoy these additional tips on having this conversation across the age ranges. Please add any wisdom or insight you may have to offer by commenting below the post! Also, be sure to check out the post below this one which offers additional tips on age-appropriate conversations from The Mayo Clinic’s website.
Ages 5 and under:
As a general rule, most sex education in the early years (5 and under) will be a result of questions stemming from standard curiosity about anatomy and male/female differences. Be honest with your daughter and keep it brief. Make sure that you express the facts with confidence and commend her for her inquisitiveness.
Once your daughter enters grammar school, it is possible that she will be exposed at some level to more sensitive topics related to sex. All it takes is just one student on the playground who has been exposed to information about sex that is inappropriate and voila, your child’s innocence can be robbed. Many children in this age range do not feel comfortable talking to their parents about what they may have heard, so it’s of critical importance to sit down with your daughter and have a general conversation with her for the purpose of encouraging open communication. For example, you might say, “Honey, sometimes there might be kids in your class or at school who say things that may confuse you. Remember, you can talk to me about anything at all, okay?”
My own daughter was ten years old and in the fifth grade when she asked where babies come from and said, “Tell me the truth.” So, I did. I kept it very simple and explained the basics of sex and God’s intent for sex to be between a husband and his wife. I also told her that sometimes people don’t follow God’s rules and she will probably hear about that in the years to come. I told her that we would talk more about body development later in the year and throughout her middle school years. (Note: If you daughter is an early bloomer, you will need to have this conversation earlier.)
Ages 12 and up:
By the time your daughter enters middle school, she should have the basics of body development down and even if she’s not developing at the rate of her peers, she should be aware of changes to come. During these years, it is of critical importance that you come up with a solid plan to educate her about sex and issues related to sex. Again, these will be ongoing conversations, so don’t bombard her with too much information, too soon. However, by the time she enters high school, you should have addressed all the benefits of waiting and the consequences that may occur from not waiting. My personal philosophy is that by middle school, all topics related to sex are fair game. Again, this doesn’t mean you dump all the information contained in this conversation on her in the 6th grade. Use discernment and spread out the facts over her middle school years, trying to touch on each one covered in Conversation #3.
The high school years should be the review years. You should have already built a foundation of facts in her middle school years and now is the time to step it up and remind her of those facts. Ages 15-17 are some of the most difficult years in a girl’s life and she will be bombarded with misinformation regarding sex. Don’t wait for your daughter to come to you in these years. Again, come up with a plan whether it’s an annual weekend get-away or a standing coffee date every 2-4 weeks. If you’re uncomfortable having conversations with her related to sex, be honest and tell her. Tell her that it’s difficult for you, but that your motive is to equip her with God’s standard for sex.
Take advantage of teachable moments that occur in everyday life where sex is not presented according to God’s standard (which, by the way, is the way it is presented by media the majority of the time). For example, if you read a news story related to STD’s and a possible link to infertility on down the road, take advantage and share it with your daughter. When I heard the above news, I told my daughter, “How sad is that that so many girls your age are listening to the culture and believing that sex is no big deal. Do you think they might think twice if they knew that their decision might leave them with an STD that goes undetected over the years and someday, leaves them unable to have children?” It seemed to help my daughter connect the dots between sex and the possible long-term consequences when I would paint a word picture for her and walk the scenario down it’s possible path.
You may have taken notice to the fact that the majority of the criticism related to abstinence only sex education programs is that they don’t offer students enough information. Of course, the critics are referring mainly to a lack of information over birth control options. There is some truth in the statement that students are not being given enough information, but I would argue that the information they are lacking are the facts I have summarized in Conversation #3. Rather than throw condoms and birth control pills at our children, why not give our daughters all the facts regarding sex so they can make fully-informed decisions? Of course, don’t wait on other sources to present the facts covered in Conversation #3 to your daughter. It’s up to you to take a proactive approach and adopt a new, upgraded sex talk—one you will have over and over again through the middle and high school years.
Your Past: How much should you share?
Most of us, truth be told, made plenty of mistakes along the way regarding sexual sin and wrestle with how much information, if any, we should share with our daughters. Here are some general rules when it comes to sharing:
- Never share details with your daughter related to the number of guys you may have slept with or what exactly you did in specific detail. Doing so does not serve a purpose and falls under the category of “TMI” (too much information). For example, I shared with my daughter, “I was not a virgin when I married and I regret my decision not to wait.” The focus should be the “regret” not the details.
- Never share information regarding your past with your daughter before she is ready. If she is somewhat sheltered and not even displaying an interest in boys, what is the purpose? We want to be preventive, yet at the same time be sensitive not to rob them of their innocence. Pray and ask God to nudge your heart when the time is right.
- Never share information with your daughter that you have yet to experience healing over. Our daughters are not equipped to help us process guilt and shame over our past actions. When we share, we must, ourselves, be walking in victory and at a place in our healing where our motive is to provide our daughters with an example of sincere regret. God has forgiven your sin “as far as the east is from the west.” If you have not embraced that truth, share your pain instead with a trusted Christian friend or counselor who can encourage you in the road to healing.
- Refrain from sharing information related to past sexual abuse with your children. Perhaps they may be ready in their adult years to hear such information, but seek counsel from a professional before you do so.
- Never, ever share information regarding someone else’s past in an effort to gain a teachable moment with your daughter unless you have her prior permission. “So-and-so at church had several abortions and shared in our small group Bible study.” To say it in such a way is gossip. “I have a dear friend…” would be a better approach. Again, never give names without prior consent.
Many of us are hesitant to some degree to share our own past regret because we fear that our daughters may walk away with the impression that if “Mom messed up, I can mess up, too.” I can’t guarantee you that they won’t. If your daughter is currently in a rebellious phase and looking for permission to misbehave, she may draw that conclusion. If you convey a heartfelt sense of regret mixed with a sincere intent to spare your own daughter from making the same mistakes, you can trust God to do His part and remind her of your caring concern as the need arises.
Below are some wonderful tips from the Mayo Clinic offered on their site. They break it down according to a more specific age and level of understanding. (2) Note that this information is a repeat of information given in the trade book, but was not included in the 5 Conversations Bible study workbook.
Age 18 months – 3 years:
Children begin to learn about their own bodies. Teach your child the proper names for sex organs. Otherwise, he or she might get the idea that something is wrong with these parts of the body.
Age 3-4 years:
Take advantage of everyday opportunities to discuss sex. If there’s a pregnancy in the family, for example, tell your children that babies grow in a special place inside the mother. If your children want more details on how the baby got there or how the baby will be born, offer them.Consider these examples:
- How do babies get inside a mommy’s tummy? You might say: “A mom and a dad make a baby by holding each other in a special way.”
- How are babies born? For some kids, it might be enough to say: “Doctors and nurses help babies who are ready to be born.”
- Where do babies come from? Try to give a simple and direct response, such as: “Babies grow in a special place inside the mother.” As your child matures, you can add more details.
Teach your child that the parts of the body covered by a bathing suit are private, and that no one should be allowed to touch them without permission.
Ages 5-7 years:
Questions about sex will become more complex, as your child tries to understand the connection between sexuality and making babies. He or she may turn to friends for some of these answers. Because children can pick up faulty information about sex and reproduction, it may be best to ask what your child knows about a particular topic before you start explaining it.
Ages 8-12 years:
Children between the ages of 8 and 12 worry a lot about whether they are “normal.” Children of the same age mature at wildly different rates. Reassure your child that he or she is well within the normal range of development.
Ages 13 years and older:
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that before they reach puberty, children should have a basic understanding of: (3)
- The names and functions of male and female sex organs
- What happens during puberty and what the physical changes of puberty mean —movement into young womanhood or young manhood
- The nature and purpose of the menstrual cycle
- What sexual intercourse is and how females become pregnant
- How to prevent pregnancy
- Same-sex relationships
- Activities that spread sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), in particular AIDS
- Your expectations and values
Talking about sexual matters with your child can make you both feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Let your child guide the talk with his or her questions. Don’t giggle or laugh, even if the question is cute. Try not to appear overly embarrassed or serious.If you have been open with your child’s questions since the beginning, it is more likely that your child will come to you with his or her questions in the future. The best place for your child to learn about relationships, love, commitment and respect is from you. (4)