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Age-By-Age Guide To Children's Sex Education

There is a very controversial decision being put into place by the British Government that has gotten parents all over the world asking:  When IS my child ready for sex and relationship education?

The British Government has decided that the answer is:  four years old.  Children from the age of 4 will be taught in school about healthy relationships.  The motivation behind the decision is that current sex education in school doesn’t cover topics like sexting, online relationships, cyber bullying and revenge porn.  They feel that more must be done to help young children navigate the digital world and its dangers.  

But is your child really ready for this education at age four?  Experts believe he is.  Here is an age-by-age guide that explains age-appropriate education for each age.

(The original article appears on Today's Parent.)

Image result for sex education


Where they’re at

Many parents are surprised to find that their children are sexual beings from birth, says Tara Johnson, a sexuality education specialist with the Region of Peel Public Health in Brampton, Ont. Even infants are curious about their own bodies and will often touch their genitals in the bathtub or during diaper changes, and baby boys have regular erections. Toddlers have no sense of privacy and may masturbate quite openly. 

What they need to know

If your toddler is in the habit of touching herself in public, gently remind her that we keep our dresses down in public and we take our hands out of our pants, says Johnson. “Children learn from their parents’ reaction whether or not their actions are acceptable. At two, they simply need to be told, ‘That’s not allowed in public.’” Don’t scold or shame them. The message you want to give to your child is that masturbation is healthy and normal, but something that should be done in the privacy of her own room.

It’s never too early to start teaching children the correct names for their body parts, including their genitals. When you’re giving your tot a bath or changing his diaper, state matter-of-factly, “This is your nose, this is your tummy, this is your penis.” It’s confusing for kids to have cutesy names for some body parts and not for others. “When you teach a child the correct names for their genitals (penis, scrotum, vulva, vagina, anus), they have no overwhelming shame or shyness around that part of the body,” says Hickling.

3 to 5

Where they’re at

Preschoolers are as intensely curious about other people’s bodies as they are about their own. “My five-year-old was playing in the sprinkler with a friend and he asked, ‘Why does his penis look different than mine?’” says Jean Smith, a mom of three in Aurora, Ont. “He had obviously looked long and hard enough to notice there was a difference between a circumcised and uncircumcised penis.” Kids this age are also what Hickling calls “magical thinkers.” “If they don’t get factual information, they make up a story to explain things to themselves.” They may decide, for example, that if you want a baby, you go to the hospital, where a nurse hands them out to anyone who asks.

What they need to know

While it’s important to answer all of your preschooler’s questions honestly, she’s not ready for a course in obstetrics. If your four-year-old asks, “Where do babies come from?” you may want to start with a simple answer: “A seed from the daddy and an egg from the mommy come together and grow in a special place in mommy’s tummy called a womb.” Some children will be perfectly satisfied with that, while others may demand to know more—like how the seeds get into mommy’s tummy in the first place. “Use your child as a gauge,” suggests Johnson. “You’ll know you haven’t given her enough information if she still has questions.”

If you catch your daughter playing doctor with the little boy from next door, don’t scold her or make her feel she’s done something bad. These explorations are more about curiosity than sexual activity, says Johnson. Explain that privates (the parts covered by a bathing suit) are, well, private, and touching one another’s is off limits. Then distract them with something more interesting—like milk and cookies.

Continue to reinforce the correct names for body parts, and start teaching the difference between good touch and bad touch. “You don’t want to come on like gangbusters,” says Hickling, “but kids do need to know that their genitals are private and nobody else should be touching them except Mom, Dad and the doctor for health and cleanliness reasons.”

6 to 9

Where they’re at 

Children in this age group vary widely in their curiosity about the facts of life. Some may just be starting to ask, “Where do babies come from?” while others want to know, “What’s sex?” (Hickling’s standard response is: “Sex is when a man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina. It’s only for adults.”) “This is the perfect window of opportunity to talk, since kids are better able to understand concepts, but they’re not old enough to be super embarrassed,” says Michelle Moreau, a child and family therapist in Saint John, who has three children under the age of seven. “Let your child’s natural curiosity guide you.”

What they need to know 

Teach your children the basics of puberty and what to expect before they get there, Hickling advises. “Puberty is happening earlier these days and it’s a lot less scary when kids know the facts.” Try to take advantage of what the experts call “teachable moments.” When Carol Armadale’s daughter found a tampon in a washroom at an amusement park, Armadale used it as a jump-off point to talk to her seven-year-old about menstruation.

When your eight-year-old asks, “What’s a blow job?” resist the urge to run for cover. “It’s your finest moment when your child asks a question that makes you sweat blood,” laughs Hickling. Take a deep breath and answer as matter-of-factly as you would if you were talking about astronomy or geography. “Oral sex is when two grown-ups are making love and they put their mouths to each other’s genitals.” If you’re caught completely off guard and aren’t sure of the answer, promise your child you’ll get back to him—and follow through.

But if you only wait for your child to start asking questions, you may wait forever, warns Hickling. “Some children just don’t think to ask, or your silence may be sending a message that it’s a taboo subject.” A good way to start a conversation is to read an illustrated children’s book together about reproduction.

9 to 12

Where they’re at 

Hickling refers to this age group as the “gross-me-outers.” “Sex is gross, and you are gross and disgusting for wanting to talk about it.” Many tweens are convinced they already “know all that,” and may use sexual lingo without really understanding the meaning. Jean Smith’s 10-year-old daughter, Brooke, for example, thought “necking” meant a lot of kissing on the neck because that’s what her friends had told her. Tweens are also starting to go through the hormonal roller coaster of puberty and have a zillion questions about their changing bodies and emotions.

What they need to know

Reassure tweens that all the physical stuff that’s happening to them—acne, wet dreams, breast budding, menstruation, growth spurts, body hair—is perfectly normal. Every one of their friends will go through it too, but maybe not at the same pace. Take some time to talk about the overwhelming emotional changes that can make puberty such a bumpy ride too—what Hickling calls the “sads, glads and mads.” The car can be a great place to have these conversations since it’s easier to talk when you don’t have to make eye contact.

Talk to your tween about the physical and emotional risks of becoming sexually active too soon. “Make sure they know that they can get pregnant the first time they have sex, and that although they can’t get pregnant from having oral sex, they can get serious STDs,” says Hickling. If you’re watching a TV show together and the couple has sex on their first date, take the opportunity to ask your tween: “Is that realistic? Did they use contraception?” When they offer their opinions, listen non-judgmentally.

Don’t assume your children will absorb your family’s beliefs and values through the air, says Hickling. “You have to be explicit about what you expect of them.”

13 to 18

Where they’re at

Teens are experiencing big life changes, their hormones are in overdrive, and they may be under pressure to have sexual intercourse, whether or not they feel ready

What they need to know

While they may not admit it, teenagers still want support and guidance from their parents. No matter how awkward it may be to talk to them about sexuality, do it anyway, advise the experts. “What I tend to talk to my kids about now, since we can’t talk about ‘sex,’ is what they’re feeling inside,” says Morgan. “More than anything, I reinforce that it’s normal—it’s called hormones.”

Make sure your teen understands that what she sees in today’s sex-saturated media is not real, that the majority of young people are not sexually active. She also needs to know that nobody has the right to pressure her and that any sexual involvement should be by mutual consent. You want your child to learn about sex in the context of feelings and relationships, not just disease prevention, says Johnson.

Don’t skirt the issue of birth control—your teen should be clear on how it’s used and where to get it. “Studies show that well-informed teens are the ones who are going to wait longer before becoming sexually active and use contraceptives when they do,” says Moreau. 

Accept the fact that your teen is the one who is going to be making the big decisions as far as his own sexuality is concerned. “You can no longer control and dictate his actions, as much as you might want to,” says Johnson. “What you can do is help your child learn to take responsibility for his actions and give him the information he needs so he can make sound decisions.”