Sometimes we aren’t sure if and when we should talk to our kids about something. For many parents, subjects related to sexuality, race, and other uncomfortable topics can fall into this category. I was talking to someone the other day who said she’d never want to talk to her kids about masturbation. This post isn’t at all about the particular topic of masturbation—it’s about an important parenting issue. When our kids are developmentally ready for a particular topic, and/or they could be exposed to it at school or somewhere else, parents should open the door to conversation about the topic. Let’s continue with the topic of masturbation for argument’s sake. For sure by junior high, if not before, kids will hear about masturbation. If parents have never talked to their child about it by then, but they’ve heard someone talking about it, the child will be forced to draw one of a few conclusions:

1) My parents don’t know about this and can’t shed light on any questions I have;

2) My parents didn’t talk to me about this because they don’t want to talk about it (either they’re uncomfortable talking about it, it’s not something that should be asked about, or they don’t think I should know anything about it); or

3) It’s something embarrassing or shameful and they might think there’s something wrong with me if I ask questions about it or talk about it.

Silence can communicate loudly. When we're silent about issues with our kids and they know about the topic or have heard about it, we’ve communicated a lot. We’ve told them clearly, "This is something we don’t talk about."

It’s important to explicitly tell our kids, “You can always talk to me or ask questions about ANYTHING.” But it’s also important to be one step ahead and pay attention to what we ought to be explicitly explaining, or at least opening the door to in our conversations. This is best done when topics come up naturally. If your child hears something on the news or overhears someone making a racist joke, take the moment to ask them what they think, what they noticed, to tell them your feelings and values, to ask them what they would do if different situations arise.

The more we lay this groundwork for open communication, the better the chances are that our kids will really talk to us and that we’ll be able to help them when difficult situations come up in the future.