We all want our children to experience healthy and happy intimate relationships, but few parents see the correlation between this end goal and the education they receive in primary school. In this blog I’d like to explore six research-based reasons WHY talking early and often is critical for children’s development. These WHYs fall into the categories of either prevention or preparation, both which have far reaching benefits for our kids.
Most parents have one or two WHYs which carry personal meaning for them and become strong motivators. Some have a particularly strong desire to protect their children, as they have experienced abuse or unhealthy relationship patterns in their own lives. Others have a desire to prepare their children for physical changes, as they recognise the disadvantage that comes from a lack of information. Some parents vividly remember the poor choices they made as teens, and want to help their children avoid similar mistakes.
If you have not yet established a strong WHY I encourage you to do so. WHYs always drive motivation – the process that initiates, guides, and maintains goal-oriented conversation. WHYs cause parents to act rather than procrastinate; to lean in rather than away. Without them we all run the risk of talking too late or too little, or minimising the significance of our input. WHYS keep us on track and in the forefront of our children’s lives.
WHY 1 – Instilling healthy foundations. There is a window of opportunity we have with tweens, before the teenage roller door goes up and they decide they know everything. This window is one I encourage parents to grab with both hands as it will pass quickly. Now is the time to transfer the values that underpin healthy intimate relationships. Studies from all over the world confirm that children who receive early education from trusted adults are more likely to avoid early pregnancy, STIs and unsafe sexual experiences. They are also more likely to make safe choices and choose healthy relationships.
WHY 2 – Protecting from abuse. Too many children experience sexual abuse from a peer or adult before they have the knowledge, language or response strategies to protect themselves. As trusted adults we want to instruct children with the language to express boundaries and the knowledge to help them report unhealthy behaviour and material. These two skills will not only be critical for them as children, but as they move into more intimate relationships.
WHY 3 – Adapting confidently. Every child experiences puberty differently. Some blissfully coast through, but most find it a challenging time. Children who experience changes early, late, or closely together may find puberty particularly difficult. Those who find the shifting social and emotional landscape overwhelming may also need a lot of support. Regardless of their experience, we want our children to feel safe and cared for. Research confirms that those who have received education from trusted adults are more likely to face their unique experience with confidence and adapt well. A trusted adult is consistently the distinguishing factor.
WHY 4 – Channelling Curiosity. Sadly, sexual experimentation online and in real life is not uncommon around the age of nine or 10, with peer initiated abuse a serious issue amongst tweens and teens. The average age of exposure to pornography is 11.5 years old, with more recent community statistics indicating that the age of exposure has dropped below the age of 8 years. Without trusted adults initiating conversations, developmentally normal curiosity is often directed to unsafe people and places. We want to establish ourselves as a reliable and safe go-to person for all things growing up so our children have a safe place to turn.
WHY 5 – Combatting media messages and misinformation from peers. Our kids are being exposed to more and more sexual content at younger ages. This includes socially constructed images of beauty which so often define their sense of self. While we may try to control what they are exposed to, we can’t eliminate troublesome content. It’s our job to arm our children with the tools they need to understand what is coming at them. This will help them think critically, and ask questions in order to correct misinformation from both peers and media.
WHY 6 – Building a platform of trust. Research clearly indicates that the greatest factor in children’s wellbeing and mental health is relationships with trusted adult. Conversations around puberty can lead to a deepening of parent’s relationship with their children and allow them into a space which is sacred. It often serves as a platform for other important conversations and opens the door for our kids to be heard, accepted and supported.
As parents we don’t know what experiences will cross our child’s paths, especially as they move towards the teenage years. The transition to high school can be a big one for our kids. Internal and external changes come like an avalanche towards them. Unfortunately, over 50% of our teenagers felt their parents didn’t talk enough about puberty and sex before they entered high school. Let’s make sure your child is part of the 50% who feel their parents showed up for them early and often. I want all our tweens to transition to adolescence wiser and safer, and surrounded by trusted adults – they deserve that. The more equipped our kids are to understand, look after and even cherish their bodies the better.