Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Book Offers New Approach to Teaching Kids about Sex

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Book Offers New Approach to Teaching Kids about Sex

Article excerpt

Sex educator Debra Haffner wants to obliterate "The Big Talk."

"It didn't work for our generation," says the 40-something Haffner. "And it doesn't work for kids now."

In place of a carefully orchestrated presentation on sex sometime around puberty, she advocates an ongoing series of teachable moments. Ideally, they start in infancy and build a solid foundation before your child gets the keys to the car.

"Less is more," says Haffner, a nationally recognized spokeswoman for healthy sex. "You start out with little bits and go from there."

Her new book, From Diapers to Dating: A Parent's Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children (Newmarket Press, $22.95), is geared as much to helping parents get comfortable with the subject of sex as to guide them in bringing it up with their kids.

"It's OK to be embarrassed talking about sex," says Haffner, who is president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, a non-profit advocacy group, and mom to kids ages 13 and 5.

It's also pretty common in America, she says. Her book steers parents in how to talk -- and listen -- to their children about sexuality issues. It recommends doing it early, often and in age-appropriate ways. And it coaches them in determining what their family values are and sharing them in conversations instead of lectures.

"You need to tell your child what your values are and then explain them. Nobody wants to hear, `Because I said so,' or `Because I'm your mom.' Parents need to pay attention to what their children say, too. What most children need is a good listening to."

A teachable moment, in Haffner's definition, is any opportunity to bring up specific issues of sexuality with a child. The ultimate national teachable moment, she says, happened last year with the unfolding of the Clinton sex scandal.

"It offered an opportunity to talk about making decisions about sex, about what is a good decision and when sex can be harmful. It could also start a conversation about having a sexual feeling and making the choice not to act on it."

But a teachable moment doesn't require a momentous event. A parent can initiate one by talking about parts of the body while diapering an infant. With older children, bath time is an opportunity for conversations about hygiene and inappropriate touch. A casual encounter with a pregnant woman can be the cue for telling a child how a baby grows inside its mother's womb.

The best teachable moment is perhaps triggered by a child's question or remark. But Haffner advises against waiting for kids to introduce the subject. Books, TV shows, movies and ads can set the stage, too. And it helps when parents pay attention to what's going on in a kid's life.

"Some parents ignore what's happening until they get smacked with it," she says. That's when the "Oh, no! …

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