How important is it for you, as a custodial grandparent, to talk honestly and openly with your grandchild about sex?

You probably thought that these discussions were far in the rearview mirror, but now you’re raising your grandchildren and you know you can’t afford to let them learn about sex on their own. We’ve heard too many stories of children who received no basic training regarding human sexuality from any significant adult in their life as they were growing up, and who struggled because of it.

When the issue comes up, your grandchild is watching and waiting for your response. If the topic doesn’t surface through the course of normal activities, you may have to bring it to the table. It might be awkward, but you’ve got to be open with both your grandsons and granddaughters to affirm them toward healthy sexuality.

Let’s talk specifics:

First, make sure you have the pertinent facts. This includes everything—from the basic “birds and bees,” to the threat of HIV, to the way our culture has twisted healthy sexuality. Talk about words like consent, rape, harassment, and abuse. Be factual and truthful. Do a little research, if need be.

Second, visit the topic of sexuality early and often. Make your conversation age appropriate, but don’t wait until they reach puberty. Healthy sex education starts with toddlers when you accurately name the body parts. As they get older, look for teachable moments when you can ask a reasonable question or express your perspective. Check in one-on-one to see if they have questions or concerns. Make yourself available as a resource, and let them know you care.

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Third, and this is really tough, let them know you’ve gone through your own struggles. This is definitely awkward, but nothing brings the sense of confidence and respect in you as a trusted adult as your willingness to admit that yes, you have struggled in this area yourself. You weren’t perfect, but you’ve been there. And, if you’ve made a mistake, tell them why you regret it and what you’ve learned because of it.

Finally, reinforce the beauty of the sexual relationship in its proper expression. Tell your grandchild about the boundaries within with sex works best: the benefits of staying within those boundaries, and the many pitfalls they’ll face if they don’t.

Make it your goal to give your grandchild a positive, wholesome view of sexuality. Just think of the benefits it will bring them—and their children—for years to come.