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Child Caring

Talking about sex with a 12-year-old boy

How do I talk to my 12 year old son about where bab[ies] come from and how his body will change as he getting older?

From: Melody, Cincinnati

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Melody: Really? You really haven't talked to your 12 yo son about sex and sexuality? OK. Now it's time for you to come out from under your rock and acknowledge to yourself that he knows a lot more than you think. Most of whatever he's absorbed has come from the popular culture, and from peers and friend's older sibs, and some of it, perhaps, from school in a health or science classroom.

Which means he has some information and a bunch of misinformation. So despite your silence thus far, you still have three important jobs: to correct inaccurate information he has, to attach your values to that information, and to let him know that, from now on, you'd like to be a source of info for him.

Step 1. : Tell him, point-blank, "You know, I haven't done a good job when it comes to talking to you about sex and sexuality. I'd like to start doing a better job." You don't need to explain why you haven't so far. Instead, ask him some questions: "So tell me what you know about where babies come from." Or, "What do you know about sex?" You want to start with a question because that gives you a window into his knowledge base; you don't want to start out over his head or way under it. A question also will make him feel more grown-up than if you just start spouting. That's a lecture. You want a conversation.

Step 2. He will likely have one of several responses: "I know what I need to know," "I don't want to talk about it with you," or, "Yeah, maybe some other time." To any of that, your response is something like this: "Yeah, I'm sure you know a lot, I know I'm late to the game, so I just want you to know, if you have any questions, whatever, I'm ready to talk." Let him know that if you don't know the answer to a question, you'll find out and get back to him. In other words, your goal is to establish yourself as a credible albeit late-to-the-game resource.

Most like, your son is going to look at you as if you're from Mars. Most boys, no matter what they know, will be too embarrassed to admit any knowledge to you, especially when you're female, not male. If there's no father-figure in his life, this is a good time to enlist the help of someone your son knows and trusts: "I've talked to Uncle Dan, and he's happy to talk to you anytime, too."

If he happens to open up, even just a little -- "Yeah, well, in health class we learned all about reproduction." -- keep it simple: "I figured. Well, textbooks and real life are different. You probably have some questions. Like, does sex ever hurt? or, Why do I have so many erections? Let me know if you do, I'll always try to answer truthfully." The idea here is to put something on the table so that he sees you're (a) serious, (b) available, and (c) not embarrassed.

Truthfully, though? You're mostly going to get a "What- are-you-kidding?" look. Which leads you to Step 3.
Present him with a book: "Here's a book I thought you might like. It's not a textbook, it's written for boys like you who might be wondering about how their body is changing." He will take it grudgingly but, trust me, he'll read it. And if he doesn't take it: Leave the book in the bathroom.

Some time later (days, not hours and not weeks) ask him again if he has any questions. Make yourself available but don't push it. The conversation will likely happen when you least expect it, or when you're driving him to baseball practice.

Here are some recommendations for books:
"What's Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: Revised Edition," by Lynda Madaras, and Area Madaras; "What's Going on Down There? Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask" by Karen Gravelle; "Let's Talk about sex," by Robie Harris; and "Let's "Talk about S-E-X" by Sam Gitchel and Lorri Foster.