Discussing privacy, self-care, dating, intimacy, contraception, crime … with 10 to 12-year-olds

If you haven’t started talking in detail to children of these ages, you had better go for it. It is never too late to start.

Parents who spoke to their children when they were younger have an advantage: by this stage they have created a relationship where the children can now talk to them at any time about anything. These children have been empowered with knowledge that will help them make good decisions about sex.

Unfortunately, talking to tweens may be a little more challenging, because at adolescence, talk about sex and sexuality can get sexual and explicit too.

The past three articles have tackled how to talk to toddlers, to 4 to 6-year-olds and to 7 to 9-year-ols. Please read the articles if you have younger children or share them with people who do.

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Many parents (including myself) have looked at pre-teens as ignorant. When sex talks take place, the responsibility has always been on mothers. In so doing, the role of fathers in family communication – especially family communication on sex and sexuality – has been neglected. According to family communication experts like Sieburg (1985), husband-wife, father-child, mother-child and child-child should talk about sex.

I agree that the dynamics of single parenting, step-parenting, homosexual parenting, grandparenting and caregiver parenting all make communication with children challenging, conflicting and competitive.

These dynamics also create role confusions and inter-role conflicts as both parents and children try to figure out who does what and who makes the rules (Le Poire, 2016). Despite all these dynamics, confusion and challenges, the nature of family structures compels the entire family to need hope and guidance in pursuing ongoing and open conversations.

Children aged 10-12 are at a stage known as pre-teen or late childhood, where children are commonly entering puberty and are curious about reproduction. At this stage, good (and less confusing) sex communication may guide children on future sex and sexuality decisions, like their sexual debut, sex partners, unwanted pregnancies, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases.

To communicate effectively, parents have to mind how they talk, their choice of words, language use, tones, situations, and even environments where the conversation takes place. At this age, children focus on your communication style and identify it as a barrier to their discussion or not.

These are the topics you need to cover:

Puberty: Discuss what you did at ages 7 to 9, but in greater details and demonstrate practically physical, social and emotional changes. Expect, using videos or your own body to talk boobs, penis growth, first period, hair, ejaculation, wet dreams, fertility, semen and babies.

Privacy: A young adolescent should know that their body belongs to them and no other eyes or hands should see or touch them. Practise privacy in bathing and in dressing up.

Genital self-care: Teach girls how use pads or tampons, and teach both genders how to wash their undies, how to pack them away and when and how to get rid of old/small ones. Also include how to take care of their armpits, pubic hair and more.

Dating: Statistics shows that some children are kissing, holding hands, petting bums and boobs, etc. by this age (Gevers, Mathews, Cupp, Russell and Jewkes, 2013). Some are even having penetrative sex.

Sexual behaviour (or sexual intercourse): Some adolescents are curious about sex and some aren’t. Both are normal. At puberty, they slowly start to feel sexual, and they might develop romantic feelings towards their peers.

STDs and HIV: Tell them that there are diseases that humans contract through sexual behaviours and detail what and how.

Contraception: Natural and artificial. What are you talking about? Tell them that they are for males and females and are methods of preventing both sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies.

Pornography: It exists and they might be watching it. Educate them that sex and sexuality is exaggerated in those acts.

Cyber safety: Teach them how to use browsing and calling devices safely.

Sexual orientation: Tell them that girls do have feelings for girls. Boys may claim to be gay. Do not get offended. At puberty, sex fantasy and attraction are not unusual. These are not necessarily their sexual orientation.

Your sexual values and beliefs: What you think about love, dating, contraception. Tell when you think that it is okay to become sexually active, etc.

Sex: Explain that sex and dating are associated with adulthood, despite their knowledge of sexual activity. But be warned; by this age, they could be giving and receiving hand jobs, blow jobs, anal sex, vaginal sex, petting, and many other disguised names that they now use. Share when to have it and how to say ‘NO’.

Risky sex: Tell them about sexual coercion, harassment, rape, violence, etc. and teach them to stay away from being perpetrators or victims by creating respectful relationships.

Reproduction: Tell them that the first menstruation signals readiness to fall pregnant and ejaculation is a sign to impregnate.

Abortion: When my first-born son was 10, a mother of his classmate told fellow parents at a birthday party that as a pediatrician, she has noticed that conception and of course abortion age has shifted to children under 12. Yes, she is seeing pregnant children and out of shame, these children’s parents are paying for medical abortions for their daughters. It just does not matter who makes these children pregnant, the fact is that they are falling pregnant. Be warned.

Outlook: Teach your children to be natural and appreciate themselves. A lack of self-esteem will push them to behave dirty.

Decision-making: Communication and assertiveness are vital skills for success at every stage. Equip your adolescents to handle peer and media pressure.

The support they need

This may be your last chance to talk while your child is still willing to listen to you, or before they completely rely on their friends (as is often the rule with teenagers). Join them in looking for answers to their questions where you both have doubts, and use each opportunity to always share your values and beliefs on love, dating, drugs, peer pressure sexual intercourse and contraception.

In several countries, religions and cultures, direct parental involvement in the sexual socialisation of children is minimal. Talks have been conducted by initiation schools and extended family members like grandparents, aunties and uncles.

Unfortunately, increased urbanisation and social change processes have impacted on this. The purpose of this article is to encourage parental or caregiver-child communication about sex and sexuality at this time of child-rearing when extended family is more absent than present.

As your children’s most important famous communicator and psychologist, it is your duty to shape their attitudes and behaviour in order to minimise future risks and exposure to harmful and negative experiences.

Your goal: To describe relationships positively, relating sex to companionship, care, sharing and love.