About raising children

Recently, reader (and good friend) Rama commented after a post about parent/teen sex talks that he wondered every now and again how I will talk to my own children about sex one day.

That crosses my mind every now and then too! Especially when I hear from friends and family about the unique challenges of parenthood these days. We have a good amount of data and information about how parents have handled talks about puberty, sex, reproduction/pregnancy (the "where I came from" talks), the good touch/bad touch/sexual abuse prevention talks, birth control and STI. But as technology changes, so does sex and the possibilities for sexual expression. And as that changes, so do the types of sex talks one needs to have… and so do the way you arrange your child’s life. 

For example, email addresses. one nearly 8-year old girl I know just got her "own" email address for which her parents have set strict guidelines and also which gets regularly monitored by them. But there are no answers or consistent professional guidelines for these. Parents are very brave for taking on what is new not only to them but to our entire culture.

At what age does one give in and allow their child an email address or cell phone? How often does one monitor and under what circumstances? At what age does the child’s email address truly become their "own", unmonitored by a parent? Keeping in mind, of course, that at some point children or teens will figure out how they can get a private free email address that not even their parents know about, even if it means that they only check it from a friend’s house, school or a local library or internet cafe. True, when all email addresses had to be paid for one could have minimized this risk as teens wouldn’t have a credit card in their name and if they used a parent’s, they would find out. In an age of free email addresses, however, they’re a free for all.

The questions continue not just for email addresses but for cell phones, social network profiles (e.g., Facebook and MySpace), as well as all the typical conundrums that parents face (e.g., when to allow dating, how to deal with dating, particularly in a world where group outings and thus hooking up appear to be more common that one-on-one formal dating).

Which is why I feel that rather than having a "talk", parenting is about having continually evolving conversations. One cannot completely control their child’s behavior but one can provide them with information as well as model for their children, through conversation, how to think about sexuality, what their family values about romance and sexuality (as well as diverse views in the local and larger global community), and how to communicate and be honest and respectful about sexuality whether it is through conversations with family, friends or a partner. And of course a huge part of this is listening to what your child wonders about, questions, and is fascinated by. Going the route of open, honest and informative conversations is not a guarantee of a stress-free parenting job when it comes to sex, but it might prepare both you and your child for what comes about.

What do you think?

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • http://www.ramahughes.com/ rama

    ugh! ongoing conversations with my children?

    i hoped you were working on a series of greeting cards or something.

    “happy peach fuzz, son!”

  • http://www.ramahughes.com rama

    ugh! ongoing conversations with my children?

    i hoped you were working on a series of greeting cards or something.

    “happy peach fuzz, son!”

  • http://www.ramahughes.com/ rama

    kidding, of course.

    and, you’re right, i’m more concerned about keeping up with my kid’s technological ones than their physical ones. at least i feel SOME expertise on body stuff… cell phones are a mystery.

  • http://www.ramahughes.com rama

    kidding, of course.

    and, you’re right, i’m more concerned about keeping up with my kid’s technological ones than their physical ones. at least i feel SOME expertise on body stuff… cell phones are a mystery.