Conscious parenting may sound like it's all apple cider vinegar and handmade socks, but facing good news and bad news with grace and mindful action doesn't always feel natural. In fact, parenting can get particularly awkward when it comes to addressing children's sexual behavior, so take a deep breath. First, the bad news: sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) spread shockingly fast, especially among adolescents and teens. The good news: parents can actually do something about it by having "The Talk" with their kids early on -- like way early on. Like age 7.
For many parents, this idea is nothing short of nauseating. Few can even stomach the idea of their young, healthy, newly sexual teens encountering STDs. To think that their 7-year-old is wondering about sex is horrifying. And yet, deep down, we know it.
Most parents I know have a story about a childhood classmate who "wanted to show everyone his pee-pee" and carry the fear that their own child will be exposed too young to this type of show and tell. But it's likely to happen. A quick look at Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr will show even the heaviest deniers that their children are being addressed as -- and are behaving as -- sexual beings from an early age. Tack on the slew of media (do I need to mention Toddlers and Tiaras?) in which aggressive and sexualized behavior for girls in particular becomes entertainment, and it's easy to see why nearly half of U.S. high school students have already had sex. The trouble is, they aren't really prepared for the consequences.
Middle schools across the U.S. are required to offer health class covering STDs, but many of the teaching methods are antiquated, or don't reach young people effectively -- or early enough. While parents may know intellectually that leaving sex ed to middle school isn't conscious parenting, the emotional rabbit hole of talking about sex is intimidating. The ideal of, "keep children as young as possible for as long as possible," is an ideal of many conscious parents, but given today's culture, that ideal is avoidant and potentially harmful.
Information technology has made children media savvy earlier, subjecting them to mature sexual messages and opportunities well in advance of puberty. An educator from PositiveSingles.com, a popular STD dating site, put it plainly: "I have second and third graders who could write a detailed how-to manual that would make your head spin. Sex education is happening, it just isn't being offered from the right sources with a curriculum keen on keeping the kids clean or safe."
There's hope on the horizon. Other countries are starting to address the need to have The Talk earlier. This summer, the UK's Liberal Democratic party proposed introducing age appropriate sex education for 7-year-olds as part of the "curriculum for life." In the U.S. non-profit organizations like Scenarios USA offer teen-written video curriculum for schools that address issues like pregnancy and HIV. Slowly but surely, the dialogue is coming down to the elementary level, and parents can step in more easily now than ever. Walk into any good children's bookstore and you'll find a selection of New York Times best sellers that serve as tools for The Talk. With titles like It's Perfectly Normal and It's Not the Stork, parents can start their 7-year-olds on a healthy, age-appropriate path to sexual education far in advance of any consequences.
And if your child isn't ready for the book? Listen to their cues. Put it on the shelf for another month, and invite them to look at the pictures. There's no need to go down the rabbit hole all in one day. Do as most parents do, and take baby steps.