Committee for Children Blog

Talking About Tough Topics with Tweens: Part 1 of 2

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Talking about tough topics, in addition to being an excellent tongue-twister, is a skill every parent needs to master, or at least muddle through. As someone who once found the perfect moment to talk about sex with her five and eight year old children after hearing an NPR story about drive-up windows for boar semen (“What are they even talking about, Mom?”), I am a big fan of seizing natural opportunities. Of course, sometimes those opportunities don’t come soon enough, and we need to nudge them along.

Years before I had children, I remember telling my sister about the importance of talking with her young son about child abuse. She, a highly educated, progressive pediatrician, agreed it was important, but went on to say, “I just don’t want to be the one to introduce the idea that there are bad things in the world.” This rocked my smug, pre-mommy world. Right! Would I want to be the one to look that sweet little baby-faced child in the eyes and say, “Honey, there are people in this world who might want to hurt you”? No! The instinct is to wait, wait, wait. Maybe it will “feel” right in a month or a year. But of course we know we can’t afford to wait.

Helping Parents Help Their Children

Luckily, there are ways of introducing these topics that don’t involve dropping the proverbial anvil on anyone’s head. Committee for Children’s new Second Step Child Protection Unit includes resources for families that offer reasonable and straightforward information about broaching and continuing to discuss the subject.

Although the topic is never treated lightly, the creators of the video do use a little humor when showing how awkward it can be for parents to talk about private body parts and personal safety. And I laughed aloud when I watched one vignette in the How to Talk with Kids About Sexual Abuse video. A boy is on his way out to play with friends when his mom starts talking about what to do if someone ever tries to touch his private body parts. The boy, undoubtedly rolling his eyes, says, “Mo-om, do we really have to talk about this?” (Our heroine, whom I call Persevering Mom, says, “We really do.”)

Is this an accurate reflection of real-world conversations with tweens? Why, yes, it is. In fact, my recent attempt to reiterate some personal safety rules with my almost-12-year-old son was a nearly verbatim replay of that skit. I kept my Persevering Mom role model in mind and powered through what amounted to a 20-second monologue of me re-stating the facts we have discussed over the years: No one should touch your private body parts. It’s never too late to tell if someone does. Don’t keep secrets about touching. If you have any questions about whether something is okay, you should always ask Dad or me.

Amos heard and tolerated it, which may be the best I can hope for during this tweeny year. He was a captive audience since we were in the car at the time, which I have found to be a handy, safe-feeling environment for him.

It was reassuring to watch the videos and be reminded that sometimes all we need to do is a 20-second soliloquy—as long as it’s one of many. The parent actors in the videos did not drag out their discussions. It’s clear these are ongoing conversations, short and to the point. I’m sure my children are not alone in their desire to have Mom and Dad shorten up their nag sessions. 

Be sure to check back for Part 2: Unsafe Versus Unwanted Touch

Read part 2