What can a 26-year-old teach you about teaching your kids about
More than you think. After all, Amber Madison was in high school
in this millennium. She's also spent the past five years talking
with teens and young adults about what they wish they'd
known, and with sex experts, health professionals, psychologists,
religious leaders and parents about what kids need to
We sat down for a Q&A with Madison, whose new book, "Talking Sex with Your Kids," (Adams
Media) is insightful, frank, funny, and includes more
references to penises than you're likely to be comfortable
Nothing is off-limits
for Madison, who got her start as a sex columnist for her college
newspaper and has written two books and made several TV appearances
since graduating in 2005. Her advice ranges from fairly obvious (do
not, under any circumstances, tell your child about losing your
virginity) to less so (what to do if you find condoms/birth control
pills in your kid's room) and confronts sex head-on, in language
parents can understand and teens won't find out of touch.
The book includes advice for single parents on talking to
opposite-sex kids, answers on whether oral sex is sex (yes!) and
whether guys are always in the mood for sex (no!), and a definition
of "hooking up" that actually makes sense.
More serious subjects include sexual emergencies, date rape, and
what to do if you suspect your teen is in an abusive
Something to keep in mind: Nearly 9 in 10 teens say postponing
sexual activity would be easier if they were able to talk more
openly with their parents about it. So starting talking.
Want to learn more? Madison's book is on sale now, and one Chicago Parent reader
will win a free copy. Leave a comment below
sharing your thoughts on the subject to enter.
1) The question we hear a lot is "At what age do
I absolutely have to sit
down my kid and have the talk?" Is there a right age and how do you
know when your child is ready?
Many parents wait for some sign that their kids are about to
actually have sex, and then they sit
them down to talk. This is a mistake. You want to start talking
with your kids about sex way before they are actually thinking
of doing it.
True, most 12 year olds aren't having sex. But are they thinking
about sex, talking about sex, and seeing sex everyday in the media?
Absolutely. Every child is different, but if I had to put a general
age on it, I'd say middle school is the time to start talking about
sex as it pertains to your child (rather than more generally "where
babies come from"). When your kids are in middle school, start
broaching topics like sex in the media, sex and technology, healthy
relationships, oral sex, sexual decision making, and body image. As
they get older, talk with them about birth control, condoms, STDs,
and when sex is a good idea/bad idea.
Need some tips? Leave a
comment below sharing your thoughts on the subject, and you could
win a copy of the book.
2) What's the most common mistake parents make when they
do decide to have the talk?
The most common mistake parents make is bombarding their teens
with one, unexpected, hash-it-all-out, puke-in-my-face conversation
about sex. No one wants that. It puts too much pressure on you as a
parent, it's too jarring to your teen, and every sex education
expert out there will tell you it's not the way to go. Instead, you
should have a series of smaller sex talks with your kids. Start
these talks when they are very young and you have to explain how
babies are made, how bodies work, and continue them up through high
school and college as you talk with them about how sex and
sexuality will fit into their own life.
3) Once parents have decided that it's
time to talk, how do you start? Do 'the birds and the bees?' still
have a place in the sex conversation?
I'm a firm believer that adult topics should be handled in adult
language. If you want to have a real conversation about sex with
your teen or tween you can't use terms like "birds and bees,"
"private places," or "thingies." If your child is old enough
that you are speaking with them about their own sexuality, you have
to leave the baby terms out of it, or the conversations will seem
irrelevant and out of touch.
The best way to start talking with your kids about sex is to be
open, direct, and bring the conversation up at opportune moments.
If you're watching TV together and sex comes up, use that as a
segue. If you're spending some quality time with your child, and
the two of you are really getting along, bring up a conversation
then, when they will be more receptive to what you have to say.
4) You're somewhere in between these two age
groups. What kind of unique perspective does that give you, and why
should both groups respect what you have to say?
Talking Sex With Your Kids is a book for parents, but
it's not about what it's like to be a parent. It's about what it's
like to be a teen. I've spent the last several years traveling
around the country speaking with young adults about sex and
sexuality-and I know they tell me things they would never feel
comfortable telling someone much older.
It was only 10 years ago that I was 16, and I can easily
remember what I was thinking, and relate to the questions and
concerns teens have today. At the same time, hindsight is 20/20,
and while I understand teens' thoughts and concerns, I have a more
mature perspective on them. My goal is to bridge the gap between
teens and parents. I want to help parents understand what their
teens and tweens are really thinking about sex, and teach them what
to say to ensure their kids make healthy sexual choices.
5) There are a lot of parents who think sex is for
married couples only. Is it OK to teach that to kids, or is there a
If you believe sex should only take place between two people who
are married, tell your kids that. Be very clear that is the choice
you want them to make. But because your kids' health and safety
should always be your top priority, you have to talk with them
about condoms and birth control too, just in case.
I interviewed a Roman Catholic priest for my book, and even he
felt that there has to be a middle ground between religious values
and young adults' safety. The reality is, the majority of people
don't wait until marriage to have sex, even many who to plan to do
so. So even if you are telling your kids to wait until marriage to
have sex, also arm them with the knowledge of how to keep
themselves safe if they don't.
And those aren't contradictory messages. I look at it like this:
you always tell your kids to wear their seatbelts-not because you
condone unsafe driving, or because you're encouraging them to crash
into another car-you tell them the wear their seat belt just in
6) How does the sex conversation change if
you think or know your child is gay?
No matter what your child's sexual orientation, you have to
speak with them about healthy relationships, making good sexual
decisions, safer sex, positive body image, sex in the media, etc.
etc. That being said, if you think your child might be gay there
are three topics you should be sure to address (and really, even if
you don't think your child is gay, you should tell your kids these
See more of Liz's stories here.
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