Sex Education across Children: Age-by-Age Guidelines For Parents

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‘Talking about the birds and the bees’ is one of the most important and yet uncomfortable parenting issue. Discussing sex and sexuality is considered taboo by many; so when it comes to sharing these facts of life with children, most, if not all parents find it unnerving and would gladly let someone else take on the responsibility.

Why then do experts insist parents undertake it?? It is because sex education is an ongoing process and parents are a significant and constant presence in all stages of a child development. It is also important to equip children with correct information at each stage of development before they acquire distorted facts from unreliable sources and create a negative outlook towards sexuality which may be difficult to correct later.

Preparing for the talk:

  • Read up and prepare facts on aspects like anatomy, reproduction, puberty, relationships, sexual orientation and beliefs.
  • Know what kind of questions to expect and how much to share at each age.
  • If you are uncomfortable, practice talking about the topics before talking to your child.
  • Create a casual, relaxed environment for the talks; let it become a part of regular family conversations and avoid making it an overwhelming factual or moral lecture.
  • Keep an open mind and commit yourself to welcoming all kinds of questions without making fun of or shaming your children.

What to expect: Possible questions and children’s reactions

Expect younger children to ask seemingly embarrassing questions at what may seem like the wrong time and/or place. Despite your discomfort, grab it as a teaching opportunity. This is all the more reason to be prepared and ready to talk as avoiding it may only put you in an awkward position, later.

Older children, especially teens, may avoid asking questions unless you initiate the discussion. They prefer to rely on peers for information and avoid discussing with parents.

  • Preschoolers generally ask questions about reproduction and differences in the male and female bodies. Ex: How babies are made? How does a baby get inside mummy’s tummy? What is that called? (pointing to breasts/penis/vulva) etc
  • Primary school children and pre-teens may ask questions surrounding self stimulation, sexual orientations (what does ‘gay’ mean), menstruation and erections, AIDS.
  • Teenagers seek details about various aspects of sex and sexuality. They may not ask parents directly but they do seek information actively. They are curious about their developing bodies and worried if they are developing as much as their peers. Their questions focus on appropriate physical development, virginity, pregnancy/contraceptives/ birth control and sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

What to share: Keep the information simple and brief for younger children.

3-6 years: Names of body parts including genitals, basic concepts of reproduction, good touch-bad touch.

6-9 years: Basics of puberty, sexual orientation, role of sexual intercourse, social norms regarding privacy, nudity and other such concepts.

9-12 years: Details about pubertal changes and reproductive systems, hygiene associated with it, values surrounding sexuality and relationships, basics of safe sex and birth control.

12-15 years: Sexually transmitted diseases and infections, contraception options, more details about continuing topics surrounding development, pregnancy, abuse, rights and responsibilities, values and different perspectives about sexuality in society.

15 years +: Continue regular conversations aimed at clarifying myths or creating a better understanding of all aspects of sex and sexuality.

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