Am I Really Supposed to Tell My 8-year-old About Sex?
This morning I received the following question from a concerned parent:
A few days ago my 8-year-old son was playing on a playground when another elementary-aged child told him a story about oral sex. The young boy saw a girl and boy in a bathroom engaging in the act and he described it to my son in vivid detail.
Astonished at this, my son asked his school friends about it, they said something to their parents, and the assistant principal brought it to my attention that we now have 2nd graders asking questions about oral sex. My son is so young and we haven’t had many talks, if any, about sex or oral sex.
I was shocked at the phone call I received this morning and I am now grappling with how my husband and I are to approach this with my son this evening. How do we talk to an 8-year-old boy about oral sex, keeping it developmentally appropriate and keeping inline with our Christian values? Please help!
Great question. Here was my reply:
So sorry to hear about this. I know these situations are difficult as a parent, and the temptation would be to freak out! It’s a blessing in disguise that you heard this news while your son is at school. This gives you time to scream, pull your hair out and throw things across the room before your son gets home. Rule No. 1: don’t freak out.
Realize you are not alone in this situation. Many parents are experiencing these kinds of struggles. In fact, your situation confirms a couple realities about our society:
- We live in a world where our kids have easy access to sexually explicit material, and sadly, many of them are acting out as they process what they have seen and heard.
- Your son is like so many young people today. When they hear something they might perceive as “naughty,” they often go to friends or the Internet for answers, not to their parents.
So realize that one of your primary goals in this situation is to create a comfortable climate of calm, continual conversations on the subject of sex. Let your son know you are a safe source about the subject. Become the parent who doesn’t freak out, but provides answers.
Keeping that in mind, let me answer your specific question: Am I supposed to talk with my 8-year-old about oral sex?
The answer is yes, because of the context.
Am I saying that all parents should sit their 2nd graders down and teach them about oral sex? Not at all. I’m saying we need to be ready to help our kids navigate truth in a world full of lies. Sometimes that means answering tough questions or explaining sexual imagery they encounter. And by 8-years-old, many parents should begin conversations about God’s plan for sex because they are encountering messages to the contrary all around them.
If your kid were in Canadian public schools, you would know exactly when to talk with your kid about this, because our neighbors up north have imposed a curriculum where it is spelled out exactly what they learn at which age: they learn about oral sex, anal sex and vaginal sex; they don’t teach 2 genders, they teach 4…. (Canadian TV show, 100 Huntley Street interviewed me about this subject.)
We aren’t quite there in America… yet… but probably will be soon. Until then, parents need to keep their eyes and ears open so we can be ready to dialogue about this important subject. And yes, it’s good to start talking about some of the basics in early elementary school, especially if they encounter content that sparks questions. Your son specifically heard oral sex graphically described, and that made him curious enough to talk with others about it. That means he has questions. That means it’s your job to provide answers… or someone else will.
In my recent book to parents, More Than Just the Talk, I interviewed a friend who is a counselor and expert on child development. I asked him, “Marv, what are parents supposed to do when their young kids ask them specific questions about sex?” Marv’s answer was simple. He said, “Answer them whatever they ask?”
If our kids have questions, they’re going to look for answers. The question you need to ask yourself is: Whom do you want them getting said answers from? You… or their friends at school?
The more we spend time playing with our kids, hanging out with them and listening to them, the more we’ll be in tune with their world. If we see them gawking at a sexy girl during a Super Bowl commercial, that might be a moment to not freak out, but casually ask questions?
“Do you think she’s pretty?”
“What is more important: who we are on the outside, or who we are on the inside?”
“Which did that commercial show us?”
“What kind of girl might you want to marry some day?”
Here’s the key: don’t feel the need to cover the entire “Birds and the Bees” in one conversation!
It’s a common mistake. We even have a name for it: ‘The Talk.’ Many of us remember enduring ‘The Talk’ growing up. One exhaustive talk where our parents used words like “intercourse.” If your son is staring at the screen when Beyonce shakes her hips, don’t feel pressured to sit down and explain each step of intercourse. You don’t have to accomplish it all in one talk. This moment can be one of the many talks you have about sex. In fact, that’s what today’s experts recommend. Today’s kids need parents who will have ongoing conversations with their kids about this important subject. Today’s kids need More Than Just ‘The Talk’
So what does that look like with your son?
Start with questions. How you ask the questions is probably more important than the questions themselves. Ask them calmly and comfortably. Sometimes it’s easier to do this while doing something else, like playing, cooking, or driving. Don’t sit him down in the living room with mom and dad facing him like he’s being interrogated.
- We heard you were talking with your friends about how some kids were doing some “intimate” or “private” “sexy” stuff in a school bathroom. Tell me about what you heard.
- Why do you think they were doing that?
- What do you think about that?
- Do you have any questions about that?
- What would you do if someone asked you to do something like that?
And then feel free to give a few sentences about God’s plan. Something like:
You know, God designed man and woman so that when they get married they can enjoy each other naked together. It’s a special gift just for husband and wife. Sometimes people don’t want to do things God’s way… so they get naked and do sexy stuff with just anyone. It’s sad, because it’s waaaaaaay better when you wait for that one special person you marry. God designed it that way.
Then just stop and just check to see if he’s still engaged. Something like, “Does that make sense?” “Do you have any questions?” You can even assure him, “You’ll learn a lot more about this as you get older.”
Then let him off the hook. “Wanna play video games with me?”
Don’t be surprised if he asks you more questions later, even in the middle of playing video games. Sometimes fun activities can catalyst some good conversation. If he brings up more questions, just answer them plainly and calmly.
Your comfortable conversations with your son will go miles towards you becoming your kids ‘Go-To’ person about sex.
Keep calm, and keep up the good work!
IF YOU WANT MORE IDEAS ABOUT BECOMING YOUR KIDS’ GO-TO PERSON ABOUT SEX, TAKE A PEEK AT JONATHAN’S HELPFUL NEW BOOK, MORE THAN JUST THE TALK: BECOMING YOUR KIDS’ GO-TO PERSON ABOUT SEX
Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for parents on his website TheSource4Parents.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.