As a matter of fact, I found it frustratingly difficult while doing research on this topic, to find good scholarly information, demonstrating the lack of attention this topic receives.
However, from personal experience as a counselor, I know that preteens as early as 9 years of age are engaging in sexual or precursors to sexual behavior in ways that either often go unnoticed or are overlooked as normal play and socialization.
Preteens at times can be just as curious to what it means to be in a relationship, mature, or desired, as their older peers.
They are often exposed to a host of sexual behaviors either through watching their parents, older siblings, older teens or of course, the media and unfortunately, sexual molestation, usually at the hands of a family member, older teen or adult.
They are often curious about themselves and each other, especially the opposite sex. They often sit, fondle or cuddle in ways that may seem harmless, but are at times precursors to future sexual behaviors.
A lot of preteens I’ve worked with are already “making out” with boys and sexting, two very good predictors to early sexual activity. I’ve met preteens that have already voluntarily engaged in oral and even vaginal sex by the time they were 12 years of age.
Early dating, overly strict parenting as well as lack of parenting are all predictors of early sexual behavior.
Here’s another tip: preteen girls who have a lot of male friends are more likely to be exposed to drugs and alcohol and are much more likely to engage in sexual behaviors.
Also, men 18 and over are responsible for 50% of the babies born to girls 17 and under.
Sure many of these teens grow up in unstable houses, have poor self esteem and are looking for acceptance when they stumble into the world of sexual behavior, but many of them also are just curious, precocious children that have no clue what they are really doing.
Preteens, just like teens, are much more likely to not use any type of sexual protection, so they are at higher risks of being exposed to STDs and pregnancy.
Yes, some preteens can get pregnant. Puberty can happen as early as 9 in “normal” girls and as early as 6 in girls born with abnormalities that cause them to go through puberty extremely early. In my research, girls as young as 6, 7, 8 and 9 have given birth to children, usually after being molested by a family member.
Parents of preteens and teens need to be proactive and honest with their children about sex. Educate your child and take the mystery out of sex, puberty and love.
Having this sort of talk with your preteen may be uncomfortable, but it’s better to have this educational, proactive talk now than to have it when it’s a little too late and you discover that your child is either pregnant, has an STD or is engaged in sexual behavior, much earlier than you ever expected.
Try to be the type of parent that gives your children all the answers they could ever ask, as detailed and as often as needed, so that they will always get the best advice (at least as much as you have educated yourself) and they don’t have to learn it from their peers or by making huge mistakes.
No parent is perfect, and neither is either child, but through communication you’ll be more likely to help your child make wise and healthy decisions today and for the rest of their lives.