If you've read my previous posts or have read my book you know that I strongly believe that every 10 year old today needs to know as much about sex and sexuality that we would typically think a 16 year old needs to know. We need to ensure that we establish ourselves as approachable parents on all matters sexual BEFORE our kids get to adolescence and their peers and the media become more influential than they are during childhood. So before we send our little ones off to middle school we have a lot of work cut out for us.
Don't think for a moment that 10 years of age is too young to learn virtually anything there is to know about sex. I'll get to my thoughts in a moment, but let me first say that I know a number of you are probably skeptical, not sure that a fifth grader needs to know as much about sex as a high school kid does. I know, because I speak to a lot of parents of 10 year olds and they tell me. I think a majority of them after hearing my rationale begin to side with me, but still there are many parents that would disagree with me.
Why I Think 10 is the New 16
1. The super-sexualization of children. My twenty-five plus years as Director of Health for the New York City Public Schools and the tens of thousands of kids I have spoken with about sex and sexuality have taught me one very import fact. Kids today are being exposed to highly sexualized messages and influences at earlier and earlier ages. Before adolescence the typical child will have been exposed to thousands and thousands of these messages. This exposure makes it imperative that parents start discussing explicit aspects of sex when their kids are still young.
2. Almost 7% of today's teens report having had sexual intercourse before 13 years of age. By the time they are in 9th grade (age 14-15) it'll be close to 32%. Sexual feelings and to some extent sexual behaviors are becoming more and more actualized during the middle school years so we don't want to start our conversations about sex then. We want to make sure that we've already had multiple conversations with our kids by the time they are in 6th and 7th grade and in order to have done that we need to start in elementary school.
3. The emergence of sexual bullies in elementary schools. Every parent of every elementary school child needs to worry that their kid might be bullied in a sexual manner. This was not a concern for the overwhelming majority of parents just fifteen or so years ago. Today, sexual bullying among elementary school kids is not uncommon. I can virtually guarantee that every elementary school across the country has multiple sexual bullies and they have them in every grade from kindergarten right through 5th grade.
4. The majority of parents in America today still confess to having difficulty communicating with their kids about sex. If young kids are confronting more and more sexual messages than ever but parents are still struggling to talk to them about sex, then many kid's morals and values about sexual behavior as they head into adolescence are being influenced by questionable sources of information and guidance.
The Eight Most Important Things About Sex
1. The single most important challenge of puberty for any adolescent is to understand how to manage and negotiate sexual feelings. Every one of you reading this knows how difficult it was to control sexual urges when you were an adolescent. The skills a teenager needs to develop in order to manage their sexual feelings healthfully takes time so starting early will help. By having your child start this process by age 10 before he or she has developed significant capacity for sexual feelings and before an age when she might be pressured to act upon them, will allow your child sufficient time to develop those skills.
2. Learning about sexual intercourse; vaginal, oral, and anal. Our 10 year old needs to know what the different types of sexual intercourse are, and to be provided with guidance concerning when to have it, who to have it with, under what circumstances and within what context. Our kids need to hear from us on multiple occasions about all of this. Rest assured that they will hear a whole lot about having sex from sources other than us and that many of these messages will tell our kids to have lots of it, with many different people, under no particular set of circumstances. By discussing in detail by age 10 the different types of intercourse, the benefits and risks for each, and how to make effective decisions concerning when and with whom to have intercourse, our kids will have had considerable time to learn the critical thinking and communication skills that are necessary for healthy sexual decision making during adolescence.
3. Learning about the many other ways to express sexual behavior such as kissing, holding, and touching private body parts over and under clothing, mutual masturbation, etc. Just like our 10 year old needs to start putting it all together concerning intercourse, she or he also needs to do the same with respect to these other types of sexual behavior. Our kids need to think early and often about these behaviors and how and when they will incorporate them into their own lives as they grow older.
4. Teach decision making and communication skills. As we help our kids make sense of sexual behavior we will want to focus on teaching them strategies for making healthy sexual decisions, along with teaching them refusal and negotiation skills so they know how to manage peer pressure. We can't do enough when it comes to teaching our kids how to make responsible sexual decisions. They need to understand how to do a cost-benefit analysis concerning many, many possible decisions they will make concerning sexuality, and learn how to evaluate wisely decisions they might make before actually making them.
5. Learning about sexual orientation and gender diversity. The longer we wait to teach our kids the importance of tolerance with respect to homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism, the greater their chances of learning bigotry and discrimination.
6. Learning about all the biological changes of puberty. This discussion should begin before age 10 and should include perspectives on changes that both boys and girls go through. You want your child well versed on the pubertal changes that he or she will go through as well as the changes the opposite sex will experience. Every 10 year old has the capacity for learning about all the changes.
7. Learning about hurtful sexual behavior. Sexual violence, harassment, and bullying in all it's possible permutations. Your 10 year old needs to understand how sexual behavior can be hurtful and how to avoid being both victim and perpetrator.
8. Learning the importance of having love, respect, and trust in a relationship prior to having sexual intercourse. Every 10 year old should know the value of having these three ingredients in a relationship before going all the way. Every kid I have ever met could have benefitted from a greater understanding of what I call "the big three" aspects of an endearing relationship. Let's start teaching our kids about them early in life...long before age 10 but ensuring that they have a good appreciation for them by then. Keep on building upon their awareness of the big three as they travel through adolescence.
There are many things about sex and sexuality that we will need to teach to our kids. It is NEVER too early to start but it is always possible that it could be too late. Once our kids go off to middle school the challenges really begin and we want to plan well ahead of time. If you address these eight important issues with your child by the time he or she is 10 years of age you will be way ahead of the game.