SRH-Talks: The Homestretch – Talking to Ages 9-13+
Children may now start opening up to peers more than they do to you. Don’t fret! If you’ve been regular with your SRH-discussions over the years, you’ve already established the foundation for open communication. Trust that the work you’ve put in, has taught your child how to make informed decisions. That being said, do remind them that they can talk to you about anything, even if they respond with a disgruntled “yeah, I know”.
It’s doubly important to remain honest when your child asks you something, as they are likely exposed to twice the amount of information than before. If you don’t know the answer to their question, acknowledge where you’re lacking and propose looking it up together.
If you haven’t brought up the topic of SRH until now, don’t fear. Yes, putting in the work beforehand when your child was younger to break down any awkward boundaries, would have made the current process much easier – but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Start by acknowledging your silence on the topic and state your intentions to become more vocal and available to questions. Use resources such as books and videos to aide your conversations and become more comfortable with the material. Talk to your child while running errands together or during a movie featuring an intimate couple. If relevant, use daily news examples to start off the conversation. Your child may avoid the conversation and say, “I don’t want to talk about this. I already know this”, but don’t be discouraged. SRH isn’t just about educating children on safe practices, but is also an opportunity for you to discuss your values and beliefs. Explain to your child where you’re coming from, and what your intentions are.
Be mindful of asking too many questions as that may result in your child feeling threatened and cutting the conversation short. You want to listen more than you lecture. Ultimately, your goal is to impart the knowledge needed to empower your child.
We’ve created a list of points to be highlighted for this age. This guide is a rough starting point, and is by no means exhaustive.
- Details, details, details: Your child will likely begin puberty now – explain the changes beforehand, to make the process smoother. Emphasize that everyone experiences SRH differently and comparisons with peers is not a good measure of how far one is in their developmental journey. Do highlight certain red flags to look out for and what to do. Discuss the actual mechanics of reproduction. Don’t think discussing SRH means mean you’re giving permission to go do it. In fact, this is a good time to talk about how, why and when to practice abstinence. Don’t let emotions prevent you from giving your child the correct, biological facts. Maintain the idea that these processes are normal and part of adult
- Safe Sexual Practices: It is vital to discuss how to act safely and responsibly, regardless of how sexually active one is. Once an individual has reached puberty, they can have babies – this needs to be acknowledged. Pre-teens and teenagers are more likely to make better decisions when informed of the risks and consequences. Reiterate that feelings of arousal are normal and can be explored in private, while maintaining proper hygiene to avoid any infections. Discuss the types of birth control available, and how to pick the right one. Again, don’t think this means you’re encouraging them to engage in such activities – you’re not. Be clear about your intentions and reasoning for the discussion – to empower your child to better understand and take control of their bodies.
- Online Practices: Now is the time to re-visit previously established rules on online behavior. Firstly, understand that your child has more freedom and will likely be using their devices often, unsupervised and in private. You won’t always know what they’re looking at. Therefore, it’s important to reiterate the dangers of talking to strangers. Be frank about the consequences of sharing personal information or explicit photos, while also letting your child know that should anything happen, they need to approach you. Discuss what it means to be responsible and respectful of others online. Your child may become more curious about pornography – an online resource that may perpetuate misinformation on SRH. Address the existence of these sites and how they aren’t always accurate. You don’t need to talk about pornography as being bad but rather something intended for adults.
- Consent: Highlight the role that drugs and alcohol can play in such situations. Discuss healthy relationships and how to identify abusive and violent behavior. Although difficult, these discussions ensure your child is able to protect themselves and navigate future relationships safely. Let your child know that they deserve to have loving and supportive relationships.
- Gender Roles, Gender Expression & Sexual Identity: Build on the idea that gender identity is not defined by genitals. Talk about gender and sexual identity as being a spectrum and fluid. Educating your child on these topics will help them not only navigate their own experiences, but also be of support to friends. It is important to respect your child’s decisions on how they present themselves. Rejection and fear of backlash from loved ones, is a mental health concern and affects a child’s overall wellbeing. Discuss the prevalent sexism and sexualization in society and media. Addressing these social issues by providing positive examples, will help your child overcome stereotypes and instill self-confidence.
- Peer Pressure: This is an age at which there is an increased pressure to look a certain way. Check-in and ask how your child feels about these changes and how it affects them socially. Our society tends to idolize more Eurocentric characteristics as the ‘ideal beauty’ – talk about this, it’s negative implications and how this doesn’t need to be the case for your child. Tackling these issues, by discussing possible scenarios and the emotions they provoke, can make your child feel more comfortable in their skin and social decisions.