This morning, Today contributor Dr. Gail Saltz stopped by to discuss a new book she has written, titled "Changing You: A Guide To Body Changes And Sexuality." =ef440ae5-5031-4e0b-9ea3-b0097707d0f9" target=_blank>WATCH VIDEO. I caught up with her afterwards to ask some more questions about this topic that is so difficult for many parents to face.
Q: Why is it so important to talk to kids about sex and puberty early?
Dr Gail: There are a couple of reasons. One is to lay the groundwork and establish the fact that you, the parent, are the source of information. If you wait, someone else, usually another kid, will provide that info, and it might be incorrect info. That's where kids get crazy ideas from. And when the questions get harder, you want them to feel they can come to you. They need to know they can ask more difficult questions. The other reason is that they are seeing a tremendous amount about sex in the media, and lots of it has to do with unhealthy sexual activity. If you don't have any discussions to counter that, telling them the real info and your own values, then that's dangerous. You need to tell them what you believe and what you want them to know, because that is not what they are getting from the media.
Q: Talking about the birds and the bees is probably every parent's biggest fear... because let's face it -- it can be awkward. But does it have to be?
Dr Gail: Absolutely not. The reason I wrote this book is because what happens is, a parent has all these other sexual thoughts associated with these topics. The hard thing for the parents is that they are reminded of whatever they've done recently in terms of sexuality -- and they are afraid of their kid knowing about this. But the truth is, your kids won't know. You are just giving them factual information. And we even have some of these thoughts left over from our parents' generation -- shame associated with talking about genitals. But we need to get past that. Unfortunately, many react to this nightmare by sticking their heads in the sand. We need to feel pride and ownership of our parts, and need to plant the seed now for healthy sexuality later in life.
Q: Especially in this day and age, when there's so much talk about sex on TV and in our society... kids must be hearing about it so much earlier. So is it even more important for parents to be open and honest early? Because if your kid's friends are talking about it and they don't know something, that could be embarrassing!
Dr Gail: Just today, someone today told me a story about when she was younger... a friend was telling a joke with the name of a body part in the joke... and she didn't know that word and asked everyone: "Is that the girl's name?" And she was, of course, so humiliated that she didn't know. You don't want to set your kid up to be humiliated by not knowing the normal terms. The other thing is, I see women in my office -- grown women -- who have no idea what their genitals really look like or how they really work. And that's a real set up for intimacy and sexual problems later in life.
Q: What's a good setting to talk about sex with your kids.. should it be a formal "sit down" meeting, or more of a spur of the moment, casual conversation?
Dr Gail: Frankly, I really feel it's up to you. If your kid is not asking any questions and they've reached age 10, you need to have a sit down. Because that means they are getting the idea that they shouldn't ask, and you need to let them know that they can. And by that age, someone else is telling them, so you need to handle it. Also, girls are getting their periods by that age, and there's nothing more traumatic than a girl who knows nothing about menstruation getting her period. You need to talk to them about it. But for the most part that's not the way it goes. Most kids will ask questions in one way or another. They might ask about a pregnant teacher, or a tampon commercial. So be open. Don't just say "nevermind, nevermind" when they ask. Some parents feel better having these conversations in the car, where they are facing forward and don't have to look at them in the face! If you need to do that, then fine. But I hope, over time, you can look your kids in the face and let them know this isn't embarrassing and doesn't require a drive around the block.
Q: What's the most important thing for parents to remember when talking to their kids about sex?
Dr Gail: I would say, gage what your kid is really asking. You don't want to bring up too much too early, especially if that's not what they are asking. If a 5-year-old is asking where babies come from, they aren't asking for an explanation about intercourse. So assess where they are and what they mean. Be sure you know what the question is and answer appropriately and honestly. This is your opportunity to impart your values. I can't emphasize that enough. Parents think their kids don't listen to them in teenage years, but that's not true. One recent study examined moms who made it clear to their daughters that they wanted them to wait until later to have sex... and the results showed that those kids DID wait longer than girls whose mothers did not express any opinion at all. So these conversations do matter.