Q. My child recently turned 10 years old. Is that too young to have the talk?
A. Parents in the 1950s were asking this question, too, leading the National Education Association, in collaboration with the American Medical Association, to prepare a book to provide some answers. The questions that were addressed in that book are relevant today, as are the responses.
Going beyond just the facts. Mario Lerrigo and his co-author, Helen Southard, stressed the fact that sex education isn’t an event, but a series of interactions: “Many authorities would go so far to say that sex education is only as good as the attitudes it develops in a child about family life, about marriage, about babies, about other boys and girls, about the way love is expressed, and about one’s own body. This kind of learning extends over a period of years. If a child fails to get a fact, it will not be nearly so serious as if he gets a wrong attitude about sex.”
From this, it is apparent that you and your child have been having “the talk” for a decade. The tenderness between you and your spouse demonstrates the loving relationship that led to your child’s conception. The attentive care given to your child helps develop an attitude of respect toward others. The facts that make up the talk can be conveyed over time, too, based on the child’s questions and concerns.
Our Catholic faith has much to say about the glory and gift that we are. When talking with your children, draw on the wisdom of Scripture: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? Therefore, glorify God in your body.” (1Cor 6:19a, 20)
Children are curious about themselves and others. Think of how many times your child has asked you how something works or why things happen. It is natural to have a curiosity about male and female bodies, especially their differences. When children notice that a woman is pregnant, this leads to questions about the unborn baby. Children learn through observations of our behaviors and through our answers to their questions. Your attitude will let them know whether it is alright to seek answers for the questions that arise. Respond naturally to them and remember that you don’t need to explain everything at one time. Instead the child’s understanding will unfold over time.
Dr. Cathleen McGreal is a psychology professor and certified spiritual director.