I'm a mom and an OB-GYN. This is what I wish parents would teach their kids when it comes to their bodies.
- As a mom of three, I know that some conversations are hard to have with kids.
- Kids will face peer pressure and have to navigate difficult situations.
We have it much harder than our parents did — that's for sure. Navigating parenting in 2023 comes with unique challenges as our children face different pressures and risks with the advent of social media and the internet. We all want to raise well-adjusted kids ready to take on all this world will throw at them.
Your child will face difficult social situations and peer pressure without you. They'll take risks, and they'll make mistakes. You want them to be prepared so they can make decisions about risk-taking when you aren't there. You need to push through your own discomfort in discussing difficult or sensitive topics with your child.
Avoiding conversations about difficult things will not prevent your child from being exposed to them but will just leave them unprepared when the situations arise. It may be uncomfortable, but give them accurate information, since you know they'll be getting information from their friends and social media.
As a mom and an OB-GYN, I feel that every parent should discuss these five topics with their children.
Loving and accepting yourself can be difficult. Young children are conscious of body sizes and shapes. And society values often unachievable beauty standards, which can damage a young person's sense of self and well-being.
You should start teaching your kids when they're infants about loving themselves and the body they're in and reinforce these concepts throughout childhood.
Consent and privacy
This is not just a concept for teens. Parents should teach kids about private parts using proper terms such as vagina, penis, testicles, breasts, and nipples. Remind them who is and is not allowed to touch and see private parts and what to do if they're being forced to do something they don't want to do.
Introduce privacy as children are growing and exploring. Remind them of the need to do things in private, including going to the toilet, showering, seeing parents shower, and touching private parts.
Teach your children at an early age about giving and getting consent. Explore the concept that consent can be given and taken away. Allow children to practice giving and taking away consent with their own bodies during physical interactions like hair brushing, snuggling, or tickling. If they tell you to stop, stop immediately and review why you stopped.
Puberty and periods
There's so much fear and anticipation about getting a period for the first time. Make sure children are prepared by having the conversation and purchasing period products for them to explore well before the big day arrives.
They may not know what's normal in terms of their symptoms, so talk about how heavy bleeding is and how bad cramps are. Take them to purchase menstrual products as needed. Put a "period pack" in their backpack with pads, underpants, and an extra pair of pants in case it happens at school.
Risks of social pressure
As much as we want to believe they won't or shouldn't, all kids will face difficult challenges.
It's imperative they understand the life-changing risks of sex, including unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Don't assume that this will be taught thoroughly in school or that someone else will do a good job of teaching this.
It's also important to review the health risks and legal implications of smoking and using drugs. Try to avoid shame and judgment and speak about facts and science.
Sexting and selfies
As soon as your child has their own phone, discuss the risks of sexting and social media. They need to know not to take pictures of themselves naked — even if someone they like asks for them or promises not to share them — and what to do if someone sends them an inappropriate message.
Teaching them about the dangers of interacting with strangers on the internet is as important as teaching them about dealing with strangers in real life. I recommend writing a contract that both parents and their children review and agree upon.
As uncomfortable as it may be, it is your job — and no one else's — to help your child understand their bodies and the risks they'll encounter so they can make their own decisions about how to care for themselves. Have conversations early and often, and answer their questions honestly and directly. My book, "We Need to Talk About Vaginas," is a great resource for starting some difficult conversations.
Though we're in new parenting territory, your thoughtful guidance will prepare your children for today's complex world.
Dr. Allison K. Rodgers is a double board-certified reproductive endocrinologist and OB-GYN who practices at Fertility Centers of Illinois and who wrote the book "We Need to Talk About Vaginas." She uses social media to provide reliable, evidence-based reproductive-health information. She lives outside Chicago with her husband and three children. You can follow her on Instagram and TikTok @dr.allison.rodgers.
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