Having "the" Talk with Your Pre-Teen
So I get a lot of questions from friends, fellow parents and observers, how do you bring up “the conversation” with your kids about… you know “THE TALK“? I pause usually for a few seconds and consider carefully before I reply. "Not sure what you mean,'the talk.'" Usually they reply somewhat sheepishly, "you know, about sex."
Oh… “that” talk.
Well, that depends. What age are they? What gender? What is their personality type and how mature are they? Critical details that need to be considered before responding. So here’s my best advice based on my own failed attempts and ill-timed, well-intentioned parental excursions into this sacred and yet incredibly intimidating rite of passage.
Couple of my own guidelines to consider when it’s time for “the talk”…
- Under the age of ten, consider keeping any discussion intentionally vague and non-specific.
- Pre-teens are curious but easily embarrassed. Extra so if they are discussing this with a parent. If you didn’t bring it up, it would be wise to carefully inquire as to “why” they are. Often it may involve something they have heard at school or on the bus or from a friend. Don’t blow it off. Be alert and cautious as to their level of maturity and innocence. Some parents jump all the way into the deep end of the pool here and discuss anything and everything. I would be hesitant to do that with young girls and boys under the age of 12.
- For 12-13 year olds, prayerfully consider the setting and time/place to ask your children if they have any questions about growing up. Be able to devote some time and attention to them without distraction or embarrassment. Be prepared to answer awkward questions about your own teen and young adult years, and respond with honesty and a PG-13 level of detail.
- Use an example to illustrate the key point you want them to remember. I use the classic CS Lewis analogy of fire from the “Four Loves." Describing the attributes of fire and then comparing them to sex is a very cool way to help a pre-teen or teen grasp the inherent truth of what you’re saying without graphic and lurid details. Fire is beautiful, it is essential to life, to comfort us and for our living, but it is only good in an environment that is safe. Fire outside of a fireplace or stove top can destroy and burn or kill. It can’t be controlled once let loose, and outside of those situations, much like sex, it is a disaster in the making…. you can take it from there.
- Keep the discussion door open for the future. You don’t have to cover the entire discussion in one setting. Be sure to back off if they are processing and quiet, and let them know your available anytime to resume or expand on this conversation. If they don’t take you up on that offer in a few days or weeks, then you might want to re-start the conversation in time.
The bottom line is this: if you avoid this topic, if you shy away from or gloss over the content as a parent, someone or something else will fill in the blanks for your kids. Someone who most likely has a different viewpoint, value system and moral code than you. Doing nothing is choosing to let someone else have the ‘talk” with your kids. Take courage and step up.
If you’re a single parent trying to talk with a child of the opposite gender, you may want to avoid the details and hit the high points, deferring instead to a trusted Christian friend of the same gender as your child to help explain the more gender specific issues of sexuality and adolescence.
I’m pretty comfortable talking with people about any subject, but when it comes to my own kids and sex, not so much. Especially with two teen daughters, it scares me to death. When I think of how badly I blew it as a teen and young man, I really can feel overwhelmed, guilty, like a hypocrite, etc. But trust me, you must. Go ahead and own what you need to with your teens and share edited versions from your own personal pain and regrets as to the validity of our biblical beliefs of waiting until marriage to experience sex.
Be careful with the tone in how you communicate your views as parents. In your fear for their purity, you may un-intentionally make this a hard core, very negative - “thou shalt not” talk (as a dad, that’s definitely what I do when I’m afraid for my kids). Take a deep breath, let it out slowly, and then maybe another, and prayerfully ask for God to help you as you dive into one of the most important topics we as parents will ever consider with our kids.
Be approachable and fight the urge to over simplify this talk. Sex isn’t dirty or wrong or evil, it’s just very complicated. When you engage the heart and body before the safety of a martial vow, hearts get broken and lives maimed. God knows what he’s doing, His directive to not defile the marriage bed is very timely for our culture and our children to grasp, process and respect. It’s important to let them know their feelings and curiosity is normal, healthy and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s in the discussion that they gain the freedom to share and exchange ideas. If you just “shut them down” and discourage any conversation, you will risk the likelihood of your kids figuring things out on their own, without the benefit of your adult perspective. Not recommended.
Remember, your kids are getting an average of 70+ hours a week of media ingestion;at least a third of that has sexual innuendo, images or outright open encouragement to experience sex before marital covenant. That’s a lot of mixed messages hitting their brains and hearts, combining that with hormones, peer pressure and insecurity and you have a huge recipe for disaster.
The good news: you can influence your children more than any other voice in their lives, even ones as enticing as Beyonce’s or Sports Illustrated or MTV.