Every child is different, so while some children at this age might find physical intimacy between male and female disgusting, others may be drawn to it. Talk to your child about physical intimacy in the context of a loving relationship – how a man and a woman express romantic love by physical closeness and contact. The deeper the relationship, the greater such physical contact is. Whether your children are used to seeing you and your spouse showing physical affections in front of them or not, openly share that couples do kiss, cuddle and enjoy great physical intimacy as part of the relationship between husband and wife. If you find that your child enjoys physical affection and likes expressing their affection physically, give them lots of that too so that they do not need to seek it elsewhere.
The tween years are when they can start to develop crushes on friends of the opposite sex, or on celebrities. With the latter, they can get exposed to “less kiddy” lifestyles through shows and media featuring their idols.
As far as possible, be aware of shows and videos your child is watching, so that you can use them as conversation topics. You may want to stress that screen life is not real life so they do not subconsciously adopt behaviours or mindsets contrary to your family’s values. This also help them grow in awareness about media influence since they may sub-consciously mimick trends, attitudes and even behaviours towards boy-girl relationships.
You can pick up teaching moments when you watch shows together; for example, when characters fall in love through a prolonged gaze on screen, ask your child if they think that’s how people fall in love in real life. Teach them about physical boundaries in any relationship, even for a romantic one, and walk through with them on what to do when they encounter unwanted physical contact.
Your teen is likely to already have peers who are in romantic relationships. Being liked is a big deal at this age as they explore and define their identities. So help them build their self-image and worth on their values and character, not on appearances and what they have or have not, i.e. a boyfriend, the newest gadget, or a certain weight.
In their early teen years, start the conversation on when they can have a boyfriend or girlfriend. As they grow, you can expand the topic to what they think is appropriate physical boundaries for a couple. When mapping these boundaries, you probably want to list behaviours like kissing on the cheek, kissing on lips, French kissing, touching above clothes, under clothes, mutual sex play and sexual intercourse. The key to note is that sexual feeling increases with physical intimacy and when couples start to make out, it can be very hard to stop. Research shows that sexual arousal turns off certain parts of the brain that controls reasoning and self-control. Things can easily go out of control and you might find yourself in a position which you do not want to be in.
Some questions to ask are:
Is sleeping together on the same bed with your boyfriend/girlfriend okay?
Will it set you up to be in a situation you rather not be in?
What do you think of sexting, or being asked to send a nude?
What if you feel like going further beyond your personal boundaries or your partner starts touching you somewhere you rather they don’t? What do you do?
Go through probable situations so they know what to do if and when they do happen.
You – and your teen – may cringe at the thought of mentioning these details but talking about it also helps them think through what sex entails, especially when their image of it may be built on just what is depicted on media.
Sexual intimacy happens not just on a physical level – there are emotional (your feelings), ethical (values and consequences), social (the way you relate to others) and intellectual (evaluation and making of choices) aspects as well. Oxytocin is released during arousal, therefore there is also an automatic attachment and bonding. This means that even if sex is supposed to be “no strings attached” on an emotional level, attachment happens anyway biologically. Talk deeper with them about the consequences of sex before marriage.
Sexual activities can have long-term implications. Research actually shows that teenage sexual activity is linked to a higher percentage of depression, loss of self-worth and even suicide attempts. Those who refrained from pre-marital sex also reported higher marital satisfaction. You can frame the conversation from the angle of short-term and long-term pros and cons and consequences based on the choices they make.
At all times, avoid fear or shame in the conversations but do be honest and real. If you suspect, or are told by your child that they may have gone too far, continue to be calm and process the situation with them. Assure them of your love and ask them how they feel and think about the situation and how they would like you to support them. Continue to be a safe space for them and help them build a healthy understanding of sexuality and to know how to make wise decisions for their long-term welfare.
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