What are the major talks you should give to a kid and when?
February 19, 2019 3:32 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a guide for when to give those key life lessons talks to a kid. Obviously the sex talk is on the onset of puberty. But what about the rest of them? Bullying. Racism. Telling the truth. Did someone ever make a list of all of these and what ages you're supposed to dole out your wisdom for them? If not, help me make the comprehensive list.
posted by rileyray3000 to Human Relations (41 answers total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
Outside of the moral compass lessons and the biological, I feel like the most important is the time value of money. Virtually nothing in our lives is as powerful (and potentially destructive) as conpoubd interest.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:50 AM on February 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

The talk that says here is what to do when you feel desperate, or suicidal, or confused or hurt or alone or broken. Here is what you do when you are afraid.

From The Bloggess, just yesterday.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:05 AM on February 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I’ve got two kids, 7 and 10, and I’ve come to believe that talking with them regularly, even about hard stuff, works much better than “the talk.” At this point I’ve probably had hundreds of “talks” with my kids because of we’re reading and there is something that gives me pause, so we pause and briefly (emphasis on briefly) talk about it. Or I’m talking to my spouse and they overheat and ask a question, I take time to answer it at an appropriate level. I also spend time thinking about things I want them to learn about the world so that I’m primed to find times to impart those lessons and, perhaps more importantly, so I find ways to live those lessons in their view.
posted by ElizaMain at 4:21 AM on February 19, 2019 [71 favorites]

Obviously the sex talk is on the onset of puberty

This might be when this talk is commonly given, but in fact it is very, very late to have this discussion; my daughter knew the nuts and bolts idea of sex by age 2--which was a very easy age to talk about this kind of thing, since very small children have little to no shame or embarrassment about their bodies.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:30 AM on February 19, 2019 [61 favorites]

I am more of a “provide running commentary all day every day and encourage discussions “ type. We rewatched Willow and both kids were disturbed by the “she falls for the bad guy who maybe isn’t such a bad guy once you break through his layers” bullshit storyline without prompting so I think it’s working for them.
posted by tilde at 4:30 AM on February 19, 2019 [22 favorites]

Yeah, I'm with Eliza. "Obviously puberty" is way too late, for me. Y

We've been doing sex ed with our kids since birth - they have always had their genitalia referred to in medically correct terms, and we model consent with them. "Can I have a kiss?" "Can I have a hug?" that kind of thing. If they say no, great! My five year old son knows that babies gestate inside their mothers and how breastfeeding works, thanks to his almost two year old sister, and time spent in the bath together has led to talks about how bodies are different. He knows puberty is when you go from being a kid to an adult, that it takes a few years, and that's why Mum and Dad don't look the same in the nude as he and his sister do. It's holistic. Little bit at a time, as appropriate, and as he can process it.

We model a lot of behaviours too. He knows he's the boss of his body, thanks to the adults in his life enforcing their own boundaries, and that we are not allowed to be mean to people. You teach empathy to prevent your kid from being a bully and boundaries to help give them tools to deal with being on the receiving end.

I mean it all becomes interlocking, past a point, if you aren't doing Saturday Morning Special data dumps.
posted by Jilder at 4:32 AM on February 19, 2019 [16 favorites]

One of the most important ones was the deal about secrets. They are not required to keep secrets they don’t want to; they’re truthful with us, we are as truthful as possible with them (they get that sometimes we will soften or obfuscate a bit but as they mature we can get into whatever it is more.)They can tell us any “secrets” and we will believe them and help them or their friends if asked. The only “secrets” we do are “happy secrets” like a new puppy or cookies for dinner, and their whole body but especially their swimsuit areas belong to themselves. And as they grew, stuff like passwords and when the house will be empty cuz we are out of town or where we live to online strangers ...
posted by tilde at 4:35 AM on February 19, 2019 [10 favorites]

My mom had the racism talk with me when I was 9. Her exact words: "As long as there's enough to go around, Americans will smile to your face and tell you welcome, but as soon as times are tough they will try to kick out anyone who is not white."

I don't recall that there was any context for this, but I've never heard so much bitterness in her voice about anything. I didn't believe her at the time (in fact I probably tried to argue/continue my campaign for an American Girl doll) but a few years later 9/11 happened which ripped the blinders off for good.
posted by basalganglia at 4:45 AM on February 19, 2019 [14 favorites]

In addition to agreeing that talk about sex is too late at puberty (and that it artificially joins puberty and sexual interest and/or eligibility, which will traumatise an early menarche 9 year old, for example), I would add that sexual health education begins with learning about bodily agency and consent. Agency over one's own body begins with not forcing one year olds to hug people they don't want to hug; consent begins in nursery school or kindergarten with choices about touch.

These are all foundational for a lot of the things you listed in your post, OP, and I find them interesting to think about (but I love child development.)
posted by DarlingBri at 4:53 AM on February 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm another one who feels that if you wait for Now Is The Time For The Talk on any subject you've waited much too long. We went with the dual strategy of A) answering every question the kid asks, in as much detail as he seemed interested in (kids ask a lot of questions, especially if you show that you're willing to answer them) and B) dropping in explanations or suggestions or etc in context, as things come up. (Someone in the bedtime book is being sexist? Point it out! Talk about politics at dinner and involve them in the conversation! Ask their opinion and engage with the answer! etc)

It seems to have worked out so far. The only drawback is that I get to hear "Dad, you're overexplaining again" a lot.
posted by ook at 4:56 AM on February 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I think the general consensus among people who work with kids is that you shouldn't wait until the onset of puberty and have one talk about sex; you should talk about it frequently in an age-appropriate way from time your child is a toddler. The same is probably true for most subjects; there's not a single age when you should plan to have a single talk. So maybe what you're really looking for is the age when kids are first able to understand a topic enough that you can start to talk about it, or the age by which they really need to have gotten the information - the absolute latest you should wait to bring it up.

Some others for your list:

Sexism. From the time your kid is a toddler you should be prepared to point out sexist ideas in books and videos, or talk about how girls and boys can both play with any toys they like and be any way they like. I'd say by the time your kid is 5 or so they should be aware that people used to have some wrong ideas about sex roles and that they've been changing but some people still haven't changed their ideas enough.

Every living thing dies. You are going to die someday. My kids learned this as 2 year olds. I'm not sure what age is too late, but I think the earlier you get the information, the easier it is to accept.

You don't have to obey every rule or law or instruction from an authority figure. Sometimes no harm is done by breaking the rule and sometimes following the rule actually does harm. Probably you can introduce this idea to a 2 or 3 year old. Kids should probably hear it by the time they're 5 or so.

You shouldn't automatically accept as true what you read in books or hear from teachers or doctors or any expert. People make mistakes and are wrong and you should never assume your teacher or your doctor or your parent is immune to that. Another one that probably should be introduced somewhere between 2 and 5.
posted by Redstart at 5:17 AM on February 19, 2019 [13 favorites]

Another vote for start immediately, like from birth. Adjust in age appropriate ways. Mine are both hitting puberty now and are suddenly really squirmy about talking about sex with my partner or me. Doesn't matter too much though, because we've been talking for years how things work mechanically and emotionally (to the extent that it is possible) and each of them has an age appropriate reference book in their room as well. We started with picture books when they were toddlers and trade up to books with more detail as they grow. In addition to sex and sexuality I'd say the other talks are about race, colonialism, politics generally (local parties but also larger concepts), issues of gender, sexism, feminism, internet safety/trolls, pornography, religion and humanism, death and dying, ideas about ideal beauty and aesthetics, war and civil war, populism and nationalism. But these things are life and they come up all the time, from a young age. In my opinion if you talk about them as you go for walks, drive in the car, take camping trips, listen to the news, play podcasts etc then there's no need to ever have "the talk" because you are always talking.
posted by Cuke at 5:21 AM on February 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Encourage (from day one) a culture where asking is ok and not laughed at or sneered at. Answer the questions when they come without holding back.
Other than that, evaluate the how's, why's and why-nots of mishaps or almost-accidents, but also evaluate things that went well.
posted by Namlit at 5:24 AM on February 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

On top of everything people have already mentioned, finance. Talk about money, calculate things in the shops, give them pocket money that's theirs to spend, teach them about marketing and psychological tricks used on consumers to make them spend more. By the time I was nine I was in charge of checking which products are cheaper by volume/weight in the supermarket, and it's served me well as far as taking conscious financial choices goes.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 5:26 AM on February 19, 2019 [4 favorites]

I have talks with DOT, Jr. constantly about everything. Yesterday, we were at the museum and he noticed that he could go right into the men's restroom but the ladies' had a long line. I pointed out that the people who had made the museum had provided the same number of restrooms for both men and women. Could he figure out what was wrong with that reasoning? We had a good talk about the difference between equal and fair.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 5:39 AM on February 19, 2019 [19 favorites]

Explain housework to them, especially if they are a boy unfortunately. Explain why you clean a particular way and with what method and tools and how often. Also with simple cooking and parts of cooking. That way they will know how to run their own household when they grow up.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:16 AM on February 19, 2019 [16 favorites]

Yeah, I think AskMe is going to trend towards "talk to your kids all the time about everything under the sun in an age-appropriate way." But that is just one style of parenting among many.

I found this article from Common Sense Media on how to talk to kids about difficult subjects. They divide kids into ages 2-6, 7-12, and teenagers. The youngest kids can pretty effectively be shielded from adult topics, older kids are going to stumble onto them, and teenagers are going to be fully involved with them. They've got some interesting tips and suggestions.
posted by whitewall at 6:18 AM on February 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

What you would want for yourself (and for them) if something deadly or debilitating happened to you - logistically, emotionally, financially. Also important with adult children.
posted by mosst at 6:28 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

+1 for everyone saying that it's best done incrementally over a long period of time. A lot of the more complicated topics need more than can be done in a single sitting.

Public vs private norms was a pervasive topic for me, because a lot of the values my parents were trying to impart were not those of the dominant culture around us. Stuff like, this is the etiquette for eating with people like us, this is the etiquette for eating with Americans. Or, education is important and you should take it seriously, even if you have to affect a certain indifference at school. Etc. (Related: the importance of keeping those worlds separate, so your kids understand the danger of telling teachers that they had rice and pickles for breakfast.)

On preview: +1 for housework. Let kids watch and help you with the housework as soon as they show any interest and are able to do so safely. (E.g., don't let the toddler help you deep-fry the turkey.) Even if their help is counter-productive at first, the initial slowdown will pay dividends in the future as they become more capable.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 6:31 AM on February 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Things that have come up with my 7 year old starting around 3 or 4: death, where babies come from, puberty, money, jobs, racism, bullying, sexism, homophobia, emotion regulation, nutrition, character, politics, love and relationships/dating, global warming, fire safety (also covered at school), higher education, book smarts versus real life smarts, wisdom, religion/god.

Another good one is how to talk about or react to people who are different. My son's school has a special education program so he's gotten familiar with seeing people who are different and he'll say things to me like "people who are in a wheelchair or can't talk the same as me are just like me", and he doesn't stare or act uncomfortable.

I find movies can serve as a nice starting point to reinforcing something versus a formal sit down talk, so if a character is being bullied we can discuss how wrong it is to treat people badly, if a girl is being treated as less smart than a boy character we discuss that. I also try to give my kid space to ask questions before bed or when we're driving. I don't present myself as the expert in all of this I will share different perspectives for things like religion, death, say we can look something up, etc.
posted by lafemma at 6:37 AM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

The summer before my daughter began middle school, I did this cheesy "squeeze the toothpaste out" exercise with her and we talked about how there are sometimes no takebacks on hurtful words or actions. I added in a story about a shitty thing I did in my middle school years that I still think back on sometimes and regret.

I honestly forgot all about it until a few weeks ago, when she brought it up as something that had stayed with her and that she occasionally thinks about.
posted by AgentRocket at 6:42 AM on February 19, 2019 [8 favorites]

+1 you talk about things as they come up in an age-appropriate way. One of the more serious talks I've had with my kids (6 year old girl and 8 year old boy) recently is about active shooters, gun control, and toxic masculinity. There was an incident at their school a few weeks ago where there was a threat of a shooting, which came in while the elementary kids were on the bus heading to school, so the district diverted all the buses to a secret location until the threat had passed. But I guess they didn't give them any information about it because they thought it was some kind of drill. So we ended up spending the entire dinner hour talking about why people would want to kill other people, how some people aren't taught to handle their feelings in safe and productive ways, and how having easy access to guns makes those people who can't handle their feelings so dangerous. And how boys especially have a hard time dealing with the bad emotions like anger, embarrassment, etc. because our culture tells them it's not OK to have emotions (but everyone does, and should know how to deal with them). Then a bit about some positive and safe ways of handling emotions, and a talk (which they've heard probably 10-12 times before) about gun safety and what to do if they find a gun or if their friend has one (don't touch it, get away from it, tell an adult).
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:42 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

puberty is obviously too late for a sex talk (among other reasons, if you wait until they're interested in sex to talk about sex, they will find it unbearable to talk about sex with you.) but there is a very good reason to give official Talks in addition to whatever ideal version of constant dialogue you attempt, and that is: if you never give a formal Talk about anything, you have no way to keep track of what you have and haven't explained, and you are going to go around thinking you've told your kids something very obvious that "of course" they know, and they don't because you haven't, because it never came up Naturally.

there are lots of things everybody knows, and for some of them you should make a checklist and keep track, because everybody knows them only if their parents remember to tell them. and there are too many of those things to let chance and circumstance take care of all of them.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:45 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

I have an 8 and 5 year old, and I do the running commentary whenever opportunity arises. My 8 year old has been asking about puberty for years and I tell him. If they have questions, I answer them honestly. If something happens that's a teachable moment, I use it as an opportunity to discuss a hard topic. Echoing others who say onset of puberty is late to discuss puberty. I also have age appropriate books around for sex topics (It's not the Stork, for example) so if they get curious but don't want to discus, they can go read.
posted by katypickle at 6:47 AM on February 19, 2019

One of the ones that's harder to broach (and if you wait until the topic comes up it's too late) is drugs and alcohol and the related issues of safety, abuse, and addiction. You definitely want them to have information about that before they encounter any substances in the wild. My son is 8 and I'm pretty sure I need to start having that talk with him soon.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 6:53 AM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I talk to my kids about everything once a year. I just pitch it to their level. So at 3, maybe the talk was about what a medicine is and how you don't take other people's medicine. And at 9 it was what if a drug dealer comes up to you. And at 13 it's a lot about making good choices and finding other ways to enjoy your body.

Same thing for sex - names of things, private areas of our body, respecting other people's bodies and not touching them without permission, how babies are made, etc.

Bullying - same thing. Social media, we started with what a comment is and moved on.

I do kind of have a checklist I go down and I have those conversations sort of like this: sex is around the annual physical, drugs is around Easter, bullying/social media is around the start of school, racism is around Black History Month, sexism is around International Women's Day, like that. Death is around my daughter's death day. Religion around Xmas.

I also use outside resources. This year my son is going to start commuting to a high school far out of our neighbourhood, so I am going to have him read The Gift of Fear.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:41 AM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

My son asked me about sex when he was 7. Puberty is way too late. Talk about sex when you watch tv shows together, when you have opinions about the news or music on the radio as you drive home. Ask Look sex is a big subject; it's easy to have misunderstanding, so do you have questions? What are you hearing from friends? At 7, I gave my son the full facts, and then kept providing information, including books and web sites. Same with lots of other subjects, and I made sure he had access to condoms, with the advice that he *really* shouldn't be having sex, but should know how to be prepared.

His Dad and I separated then divorced, Dad got a roommate, and my son was worried about going to Dad's house, because roommate was a 'stranger'. That was a message taught in school, but messages have to be discussed and repeated because it's so easy for them to be misunderstood. However, another reason to talk about sexuality is so kids know how to say No and how to tell an adult about anything sketchy.

Somewhere around then, I mentioned something about a family friend being Jewish. He had no idea so many of our friends are Jewish. He wasn't getting obvious anti-Jewish messages outside the home, but was getting the message that Jews are foreign or very different. Kids are exposed to friends' beliefs, the parents' beliefs, etc. When a friend of my son's made an anti-gay comment, they got some feedback from me.

This was a really good question to ask.
posted by theora55 at 7:47 AM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have been following the "talk to them about everything at all times" policy.

I've been talking to them about sex since they were toddlers. At age 3, I would tell them, "Boys make sperm and girls make eggs, and when a sperm and egg get together in a mommy's belly, BOOM! that's a baby-seed! The baby-seed grows and grows and then when it's fully a real baby, it wants to come out so it gets born." By around age 6 or 7, I had added, "When two people love each other, they usually want to kiss and hold hands, and if they're adults, then they might want to have (their/partner's) penis go inside (their/partner's) vagina - that's called having sex. Then sperm comes out of the penis and swims off to meet the egg in the womb." Now my older kid is almost 11, I've been talking to him about puberty and masturbation, and even telling him what pornography is. He's got a book or two in his room which he can look some of these things up on anytime. Both kids have known about periods since they were tiny! Mostly in the context of "Yeah that's called a tampon, mommy needs it for when she gets a period," but often to connect it up with the eggs that don't make any babies ("or else we would have three zillion babies in the house by now, omg").

Other topics we keep constantly talking about, also beginning on Day Zero (not waiting until they are old enough):

1. All the SJW curriculum -- bluntly, without softening it. They know and have always known that racism is still real and didn't get solved with MLK or whoever. They know women still get discriminated against. They know lower caste people are hated and separated from upper castes. They know trans people get beat up and killed sometimes. They know gay people get thrown out by their own families sometimes. They know people with disabilities are often blocked from doing regular things for no reason other than we fail to think about their needs. They know about poverty and how just "working hard" isn't a cure for it but in fact a way to blame victims. And so on. They know it's getting better only because more and more regular people (adults and kids) are honest about it and try to make good choices in everyday life.

2. Divorce: Kind of had this thrust on our family because I got divorced two years ago. We handled it by telling the kids "Mom and dad just aren't best friends anymore, and you'll be living with both of us," etc. We co-parent well, thank goodness, so the kids know they have two active parents who communicate well.

3. Parents fucking up in serious ways: Again, kind of had it thrust on us, because the kids' dad was yelling at them way too often and punishing them for all kinds of stupid things. The kids would come to me and cry about this, and I would (a) validate their feeling that this behavior is not okay even (or especially) from family members, (b) help them find a way to express their feelings to their dad, and (c) speak to their dad repeatedly and directly about how he needs to change or else risk losing his kids. I never used the word abuse, but my kids used the word "bullying" and I validated + encouraged that terminology. And happily, it worked!! My ex was way more motivated to change his behavior wrt kids than he ever was with me. They have a much better time at dad's place now, and their relationship is awesome.

4. Sexual assault: Consent is something that the kids were taught from Day 0: "No means no, stop means stop, never any jokes or exceptions", "If even one friend is not having fun, the game stops", "Even grandma has to listen when you say no hugs or kisses," etc. The idea of sexual assault was easier to introduce once they knew about body safety and private parts. The idea of sexual assault being both common and gendered is something we are broaching only now, in the past year or so, using Trump as our jumping off point.

5. Death: Haven't been personally touched by it (no pets) but we do touch on it to the best extent I can all the time, kind of casually.

6. Religion: We are atheists but have hindu heritage. The kids know they can believe what they want, and we often talk about different cultures, celebrate different relgious festivals, etc. We also talk about respecting beliefs, and antisemitism, Islamophobia, etc.

All of these talks have happened over and over and over again. The kids forget, or lose details, or never understood it properly to begin with, or whatever.
posted by MiraK at 7:51 AM on February 19, 2019 [7 favorites]

There really isn't a one-size-fits-all list of at what age to have "Big Talks" because there are so many cultural factors involved in when kids are first affected by these big issues. Like, white kids in the US, IF they get a talk about race and racism from their parents, they get it YEARS after non-white parents have had these discussions with their children, because those early discussions are survival mechanisms mandated by how our society treats people who don't look white. Or kids with two mommies/daddies or divorced parents vs. heteronormative nuclear families. Most of these talks happen right after an affecting incident that the kid doesn't understand (yes, as early as preschool, whenever your kid is able to ask questions and participate in a conversation). There are different levels of how deep you can expect a talk to go to for various age groups as a rough guideline, but all of the issues you listed affect kids from the day they're born to various extents, and it's lifelong work to help them understand these concepts and how to learn appropriate behavior from these talks over time.
posted by Pandora Kouti at 8:58 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Ask them about things that are different for them than you. I did my first “active shooter” review and it was rough - my kids have been doing them for over a decade.
posted by tilde at 9:09 AM on February 19, 2019

+1 to pretty much all of the answers here, so I won't repeat any of them. One thing I don't think I saw touched on much is how to be and remain healthy.

We have boys. We teach them about cleaning and why we clean (to keep vermin out of our home and to keep our food stores from spoiling, and to keep from spreading viruses). Dad models cleaning as much as I do, although he doesn't necessarily talk about it.

We talk a lot about nutrition, why we eat the way we do, why we treat certain foods as an occasional treat or avoid them altogether. When we allow treat foods we talk about how our bodies feel afterward (learning to tie our physical state, and sometimes our mental or emotional state, to nutrition).

We talk a lot about when it's okay to use home remedies (and how) vs when it's time to go to the doctor. When we go to the doctor or dentist, we talk about what to expect before the appointment, and expectation vs reality after the appointment. I model asking questions in the appointment, and I encourage my kids to ask questions too, ie not just blindly accept something that a health authority figure says. I do this because I feel like health and nutrition issues are often times treated as emotional labor within the family, and I know a few grown men who will tough things out because they never learned how to advocate for themselves in a medical setting.

I model gardening and how to identify plants to the kids; I have them help me pick out produce at the store to select for good or not so good. Everyone should know the very basics about how to identify food.
posted by vignettist at 9:14 AM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

You asked about racism. I'm presuming that you are white and your kids are as well? Well, I'd say that you should begin talking to your white kids about race (first) and racism (a bit later) at the same time that families with kids of color, especially black kids, start talking to their kids about race and racism: from the beginning. It's a facet of white privilege not to have to do this sooner. So one of the ways we can begin to dismantle that privilege is by directly acknowledging race and racism with our white kids.

For some background on this, I refer you to the book NurtureShock. Here's an excerpt:
Is it really so difficult to talk with children about race when they're very young? What jumped out at Phyllis Katz, in her study of 200 black and white children, was that parents are very comfortable talking to their children about gender, and they work very hard to counterprogram against boy-girl stereotypes. That ought to be our model for talking about race. The same way we remind our daughters, "Mommies can be doctors just like daddies," we ought to be telling all children that doctors can be any skin color. It's not complicated what to say. It's only a matter of how often we reinforce it.

And here's how a Wired article titled "How To Raise Racist Kids" puts it:
Step One: Don’t talk about race. Don’t point out skin color. Be “color blind.”
Step Two: Actually, that’s it. There is no Step Two.
Congratulations! Your children are well on their way to believing that insert your ethnicity here is better than everybody else.

The other reason to start talking about this early is because a lot of white people in the US are not very good at talking about race. So get into the practice of it yourself so you become more comfortable having these conversations while your child is young.

Just like you probably make sure to have kids books that show women and men as leaders and doers, make sure you have plenty of books with people of color in them. This is a great way to discuss, explicitly, skin color. You can also do this with disabilities (for example, make sure you have books that show some people in wheelchairs, and talk about that).
posted by bluedaisy at 11:37 AM on February 19, 2019 [6 favorites]

Here's one that might be tough, too, but I'd say middle school is the time to start talking to our kids about porn. That's probably around when they'll start seeing it.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:39 AM on February 19, 2019

The most important Talk I ever had was not intentional, and I think that's important. You'll never know what sticks. Throw lots of darts all the time.
I'm sure there are dozens of times I was sat down to be told something, but the one I'll remember until my dying moment was when my grandfather explained the concept of being a steward of the land to me. That's infused the rest of my life, and it's probably important for kids to hear. That life and the earth is an incredible gift and it's our job to take care of it in all things.
posted by neonrev at 12:48 PM on February 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Talk about consent often in early. I wish I would’ve had people tell me that I didn’t have to give hugs to people I didn’t want to even when I was young. That I am allowed to have people touch or not touch my body depending on what I want. It is also of course goes hand-in-hand with romantic or sexual content but definitely also with friends and family.
posted by Crystalinne at 12:52 PM on February 19, 2019

Internet privacy, as soon as the kids have access to web sites where they might be asked for personally identifying information. When they’re older, add in how to detect email phishing and suspicious websites, and the repercussions of oversharing (including via naked pictures) online.
posted by lakeroon at 1:52 PM on February 19, 2019

You will have some tough talks as early as kindergarten on topics such as drugs, sex, bullying, personal safety, internet safety. You need to prepare children for what they will find in the school and on the playground. You should be on message with the school. Key topics:
  • Do not handle dirty needles or used condoms - tell somebody if you find them in the playground
  • Active shooter training - this occurs at American schools
  • Safe egress from the school - only leave with people you know. If somebody is luring you from the playground (which happened recently in Canada) or is making you uncomfortable, yell, scream, run, move to a more heavily trafficked area with more adults
  • Bullying - what is it, how to handle it, how not to engage in it
  • Internet safety - do not share personal information, don't read the comments on YouTube, careful on those search terms, don't post pictures of yourself, the internet is forever
  • Wealth and privilege - do not assume that other children have as much money or as many benefits as you, there are people in need in this world and in your community
Your child will need age-appropriate primers on drugs, sex, shooters, stranger danger, porn, etc so that the safety messages make sense. These messages will have to be repeated at intervals, with more colour added as the children age.

Due to family circumstances my daughter started to get talks as early as 5 on mental health issues, with personalized discussions on suicide, domestic violence, addiction, and homelessness at ages 10-11. Kids need talks way earlier than you think!
posted by crazycanuck at 2:53 PM on February 19, 2019

Gender and sexuality, in the sense that there are plenty of people (Inc kids) that are trans and queer but a lot of kids aren't really taught about them and how to treat them (especially those that are visible) with respect. Also your kids may also be questioning their gender or sexuality, or questioning gender norms (which gets caught up with sexuality a lot), and may be told "boys do X and girls do Y" (and non-binary people don't exist) from other sources.

A couple of years out of high school, I went back there to talk to my juniors about how big exams are not the be-all and end-all of existence, that they don't have to follow conventional expectations if they don't want to, that they can take breaks and try different things and it's ok if they fail. They CHEERED. Our country's educational culture is "failure is not an option" which leads to mental breakdowns and even suicides - my talk was probably the first time they'd heard anyone say that who they are is enough.

Speaking of which: mental health care. What to do if they feel anxious or depressed. How they can ask for help. You, the parent, need to show that you'll be able to accept them and support them, rather than blame them.

Re puberty: I saw this post go around a while ago about a parent whose kid had just started puberty and was feeling physically and mentally weird as a result, leading to acting out and grumpiness. They talked about the changes that happen to their body, how they may feel crazy or angry for seemingly no reason, how it's normal and how they can work together to manage it best.
posted by divabat at 2:58 PM on February 19, 2019

As for ages: as early on as possible. If I got the failure-is-okay talk (from people that MEANT IT) early on I wouldn't be quite as suicidal at 11.
posted by divabat at 3:00 PM on February 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Disability and ability is one area we cover. Early kids books are Willems Can I Play Too? and Imogene’s Antlers with the fainting mom to discuss how some people can be. There was a book that was all touch with dark pages - I started a list on Goodreads as I found better books. Vroom was about a speedy wheelchair. Speechless, as a tv series is helpful. Movies like Wonder, Darius Goes West (I’m not getting that title quite right, teen with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy goes on a road trip with friends to Pimp his Ride (wheelchair)) Murderball. The latest tween book is Fish in a Tree that covers invisible disabilities well. We use books as a start because it can be exhausting for anyone to be The Explainer. If the kids have a good foundation, they don’t have to be the x0000 person to not see someone as a whole person when disability is a factor.

Religion, atheism and respect is another If You Don’Talk About it, Problematic Bias situation.
posted by childofTethys at 9:20 AM on February 20, 2019

ElizaMain's excellent response has it. For what it's worth, I work for a science-based organization that focuses on helping parents and caregivers discuss drug and alcohol use with their kids, and ALL of the prevention parenting resources say, when it comes to "the talk", that it's best to continuously use teachable moments in life to reinforce what you want to come across. In fact, many of the parents we work with who have kids who are struggling are often confused, since they say, "But I talked to them once about it and they didn't listen!" Using real life, as it comes, to discuss topics openly with your kids will work better than a one-time "This is the way it is." Let them ask questions of you all the time, too!
posted by knownassociate at 10:58 AM on February 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

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