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What Parents Must Teach Their Children

Setting the Tone

When you talk to your children about sex, it's best to keep the conversation matter-of-fact. It's never a good idea to try to make it sound like something dirty or horrible: This will not prevent them from experimenting, it'll only to make them need therapy later in life.

Sexual curiosity is natural as early as in the womb. But if your child is made to think that the desires he feels after puberty and into adolescence are inherently bad, he can become very confused and begin to condemn himself for having them. By giving your child the best information and by opening the communication early, you will provide an atmosphere in which your child is more likely to make wise and appropriate decisions.

Mom Alert!

If you have strong views about the way the discussion of sex should be presented to your child, do make a point of watching any sex-ed videos alone first—that way you'll know just what your child is getting into. And, of course, sit with your child while the video is running, so you can clarify anything that seems to be confusing.

Womanly Wisdom

Open your discussions of sex early in your child's life: Don't wait until he's already got more information than you do about the subject. In this generation, that means you should probably get started by the time your child is age five.

Mind Your Audience

When you talk about sex, make certain that the information you're giving is appropriate to the age of your child. Younger children are mostly curious about the mechanics of the act—although it's appropriate to stress the importance of love and commitment as an integral part of sex. When you're talking to a child who's approaching puberty, you want to make the linkage between feelings and responsibility more explicit: Reinforce that the feelings are very real but make it clear that acting on them has certain real consequences.

The Dangers of Delaying the Discussion

No matter how uncomfortable you may be with talking about sex, by the time your child hits the preteen years you'd better have at least begun dealing with the subject. By that time your child will certainly be learning about it from other children, from the media, and even (very possibly) from the Internet. These sources may be presenting sexual information from very distorted perspectives, and you want your own values clearly on the record so your child develops a healthy attitude about his or her own sexuality.

As with anything else you want to teach your child, it's up to you to set the parameters. This subject is too important, and the consequences of ignorance too serious, to simply hope your child can learn what he or she needs to know from school or from peers. There are fewer societal structures than ever before. While greater tolerance for people's choices is a good thing, the lack of clear rules gives your child many more choices than you could have imagined. Preteens and teenagers are getting pregnant and are contracting sexually transmitted diseases in record numbers.

Promise to Be There for Them, No Matter What

You are not going to be able to inoculate your children against bad or early sexual experiences as you were able to inoculate them against the mumps. But open communication on the subject is your best defense against your child's making the wrong choices. Talk to your children and make it easy for them to talk to you—they're going to need to know they can turn to you for help.

Mom Alert!

Avoid using a judgmental tone when you're talking with your child about sex—it may send her the message of rejection that will keep her from turning to you if she really needs your help.

One of the best days of my life was the day my teenage daughter sat next to me and started to cry. She told me that a 13-year-old girl at a neighboring school had gotten pregnant. She said she couldn't understand how such a young girl could be so stupid as to start messing around with sex. It really shook her up. I was sorry that she was so upset but I felt thrilled that she felt comfortable telling me something so personal, and that some of the things I had told her over the years had truly reached her.

When you discuss this, and every other important issue, with your child, extend your respect for his thoughts and opinions. If you really listen to your child you will know what is on his mind and he will feel free to tell you when he is in trouble. If your child feels backed into a corner by your accusations, he'll never feel comfortable turning to you for answers when he's likely to need you the most.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Motherhood © 1999 by Deborah Levine Herman. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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