A child psychologist has written a new book that aims to teach kids between the ages of four and seven about sex — before they learn about it on the internet.
Jillian Roberts, author of Where Do Babies Come From: Our First Talk About Birth and a professor of educational psychology at the University of Victoria, says most children first learn about sex from a source other than their parents or teachers. The main source? The internet.
"About five years ago I noticed this shift that children would come with mobile devices connected to the Internet and they were online looking at games, but often stumbling upon things that they weren't meant to see," she said.
"I'm concerned about information that children are just flooded with now that they have never been flooded with in the multiple years of my practice."
Having 'the talk' before school starts
Roberts says she used to advise parents to talk to their kids about sex before puberty, or around age nine. Now, she suggests bringing up the topic as early as age three — before they go to school.
'I'm concerned about information that children are just flooded with now.'
— Jillian Roberts
"When children get to school and they get on to the playground and they have mobile devices in their hand and there's wireless networks everywhere, nine is just way too late," she said.
Roberts wrote the book while on P.E.I. at her Malpeque farm overlooking the Darnley Basin.
"Most of the books out there are designed for a much older audience. This book is extremely age-appropriate. No parent could be embarrassed by having it on their coffee table and anybody coming in to that house could read it," Roberts said.
"There's no graphic illustrations in the book. They're sweet. They talk about life inside of the womb being like planting a seed. It's very beautiful, very wholesome ... but it is accurate and it gets that conversation started and it helps parents know how to go about keep that conversation going."
Keeping kids healthy
Roberts said the book encourages kids to ask questions and lead the conversation so they get information they need at a gentle pace.
"Early sex education is one of the ways we can keep children healthy. Our research tells us that children are at risk when they don't have information, and they grow into sexually healthier adults when they have it early," said Roberts.
"If they are developing those initial impressions based on what they're seeing on the internet, we're not going to have a generation of children who have a wholesome understanding of sexuality."
An appendix at the back of the book helps parents address more complicated topics such as in vitro fertilization, adoption, and caesarian sections.
The book is the first in the Just Enough series. Roberts plans to release more books on death, divorce and diversity every six months over the next year-and-a-half.
Roberts is also releasing a complementary app called the Facts of Life Interactive where kids can interact with the baby they learn about in her book. The app is expected on iTunes in December and will cost $1.99.
Public libraries in Ontario have all purchased Roberts's book. She wants the books series be to included in school curriculums.