Archive for Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Double Take: Teen’s younger sibling asking about the birds and the bees

May 31, 2005


Dear Wes and Jenny: My little sister has been asking me a lot of questions about where babies come from. My parents seem to be oblivious to the fact that they need to start telling her the facts. Is it overstepping my boundaries as a sibling to tell her the basics so that she will not continue to be clueless?

  • Teenage girl

Wes: Yes and no. You don't say exactly how old your sister is, so I'm not sure what is appropriate to discuss at her age. So first, figure out what a child of her age is ready to hear. There are several good books on this at the local library and resources all over the Internet.

As a rule, the closer you are in age, the more these discussions fall into normal daily conversation. For teens two to three years apart, I think older siblings can be pretty good sources of gossip-level information, but parents need to be sure that the older sibling has good, correct information to share, and the younger one is getting that information accurately. For younger kids, teens can be good sources of information as long as they follow the Golden Rule in such matters: Think like an adult.

If you've been a baby sitter, you understand that when the parent is gone you are the responsible adult in the home - even if you are 14. So a good baby sitter thinks, "What would Mom do in this situation?" and reacts accordingly. The same is true when sharing information with a sibling about sex, dating, drugs or any other topic. It is important to put aside your adolescent thoughts and actions and focus on what you believe is the right information.

On the other hand, I'm also concerned about your parent's lack of response to an age-appropriate question like this. That suggests discomfort in such matters and you need to find out if your parent will be thrilled or offended if you help out. I would sit down with Mom or Dad in a nonconfrontational way and say something like this: "Hey, listen. Sally was asking me some questions about babies the other day, and I thought it was probably a good idea to just level with her. But I thought I should check it out with you first. Do you mind if I get her a book at the library and we can read it together?" I think most parents would hug their daughters and thank them for such a responsible approach. Who wouldn't like to come home and see their two daughters curled up on the coach reading a library book on anything? If I were your folks, I'd consider it an honor to have a responsible teenager in my home who is looking out for the welfare of her younger sibling.

Jenny: I agree with Wes in the fact that the age of your sister is a vital factor in whether you should step in. If I were in this situation, I would talk to my parents before proceeding with anything. It may seem like they are trying to pull the "Santa Claus is real" hoax on your sister, but it is up to your parents to determine when is the most appropriate time to intervene and give the "birds and bees" speech. It may be hard for your parents to recognize that their children are getting older and need to learn where babies really come from.

As Wes stated, you could find books in your library made for children to teach them about reproduction and sexuality. Just make sure you find books that are written in language appropriate for children. I would recommend you tell your mother or father that your little sister has been asking questions and see if they think it's time to talk about this with her. If they don't, respect their decision. It's great that you care enough about her to ask for their help and to make sure she gets the right information.

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