Even very young children are now exposed to information about sex, and it's much better coming from you.
The changes in sexual attitudes, behavior, and lifestyles over the last 30 years have raised some of the most complex problems that parents and children will ever have to face. Sex education has never been more urgently needed than now.
Home is the best school
Sex education at home can help reduce the consequences of sexual ignorance, such as early sexual activity, unplanned teenage pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, abuse, and exploitation. These problems have very high social, economic, and human costs. Educating well at home has irreplaceable benefits on a personal, family, and social level:
- It allows family values to be passed on.
- It provides accurate information to children.
- It teaches effective skills on how to make decisions that lead to healthy independence.
- It can neutralize negative and harmful sexual messages from the media.
Can we talk about sex?
How much sexual education has your child received — and where did that education come from? Mostly from you — hopefully in a thoughtful and loving way.
Parents give daily sexuality lessons to their children without realizing it. Showing love and affection to children, hugging them, pampering them, kissing them, encouraging boundaries — these are all positive lessons. As parents respond (or not) to their children’s natural curiosity about sexual differences, body parts, or where babies come from, they are sending strong messages about sexuality.
Children receive many messages on that subject outside the home — messages that are sometimes negative, or at least questionable. The radio, television, press, and billboards bombard us with messages about sex. You may think four-year-olds don’t notice these messages, but they do. Their curiosity is awakened from their first years, so why not use it as an opportunity to teach them some of your opinions and values on the subject in an age-appropriate way?
At age four, your child may not understand the whole lesson, but it will be clear that Mom and Dad think sex is important enough to talk about honestly.
If young people don’t ask their parents about sex, it’s not because they aren’t curious; it’s because they have learned they can’t ask their parents. Perhaps it bothers Mom or makes Dad uncomfortable.
If they can’t find answers from their parents, children will try to satisfy their curiosity elsewhere: their friends, television, experimentation. Unfortunately, the result is often a poorly informed and vulnerable adolescent.
Sowing values from an early age gives a more serene adolescence
Teens’ sexual behaviors and decisions are directly related to their self-esteem. If they have a good opinion of themselves, they will be more likely to make positive, healthy, and responsible choices in life.
It is during the elementary school years that kids develop a sense of self-acceptance. Before then, their sense of acceptance comes mostly from their family. If a child is always told that he is “bad,” he will soon end up thinking that this is his identity, and he will behave accordingly. But if his parents make him understand that his behavior was inappropriate — but that he as a person is always valued and loved — then the child will maintain his self-respect or self-esteem.
When they start school, children face pressures, demands, and expectations that go beyond family life. It’s important for parents to remind them that their worth comes from within, and does not depend on their academic or athletic success.
As in other aspects of growth and development, children need help to feel valued, capable, and accepted. We need to give them:
Approval: Children need a lot of praise, and they often view their parents’ approval as a measure of their own value. Give your child frequent praise for what he did well or for making an excellent effort.
Acceptance: At the same time as you recognize your daughter’s areas of excellence, help her to accept her imperfections. If she behaves inappropriately, make sure she understands that you might not like her behavior, but that you still love her.
Attention: When you show sincere interest in the children’s daily activities, you teach them that they are important. Having their parents’ full attention, even just for a little while, helps them feel that they are very special.
Achievement: Children learn by doing things and need opportunities to practice the skills they have just acquired. Letting them make decisions will give them valuable practice in an essential life skill. And practice makes perfect.
Respect: Children are also people and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.
The opinion that children have of themselves has a great influence on how they live and relate to the world. If they grow up feeling loved, valued, and capable, then they will be much better at calmly facing life’s great issues, including their own sexuality.
Since you are here…
…we’d like to have one more word with you. We are excited to report that Aleteia’s readership is growing at a rapid rate, world-wide! Our team proves its mission every day by providing high-quality content that informs and inspires a Christian life. But quality journalism has a cost and it’s more than ads can cover. We want our articles to be accessible to everyone, free of charge, but we need your help. To continue our efforts to nourish and inspire our Catholic family, your support is invaluable. Become an Aleteia Patron today for as little as $3 a month. May we count on you?