It must be you, their parent or guardian- the one who loves them above all else- that introduces the topic of sexuality to your children. It must be you who is open, honest and makes them feel secure enough to talk unashamedly. It must be you they turn to with questions and curiosity. As uncomfortable as this may make you, it is YOUR job to teach them and give them the right perspective on a very natural, yet very scary topic.
Kids are going to hear about sex. They are going to notice changes in themselves and their siblings. If it is not you, it WILL be someone else, a child, Gd forbid an adult, a book, a movie, a magazine, that gives them (mis)information, and that something will be out of your control and will influence your child’s perspective on sex, their bodies, the opposite sex, and sexuality in general.
No one and nothing other than a parent should have that kind of influence on a growing child. That is YOUR place.
In the past month, I’ve heard two different women, professionals and mothers, speak about sexuality and kids. One was Dr. Ruth, a well known sex therapist, at the President’s Conference, and the other was Dr. Yocheved Debow, psychologist and educator, and author of Talking About Intimacy and Sexuality at a local lecture series.
Perhaps nothing I can share with you about these lectures will make my above point clearer than the following anecdote posted anonymously and with permission.
The #1 factor in teen behavior is what they think their friends are doing.
A friend who is now a mother told me that she finally understood something that’s haunted her for 20 years. She never understood why as a young teenager she went from not even considering having sex, to being sexually active almost overnight. She said that she ‘knew’ sex was something that only ‘sluts’ did. Then, one day she was talking to a friend- a ‘good girl’- who very openly spoke of her sexual relationship with her boyfriend and went on to say that ‘of course everyone does it’ and laughed at my friend’s naiveté. That conversation changed her perspective from an assumed understanding of her world to its reality. It changed her understanding of what was ‘right’ and what was ‘wrong’. From that conversation, what was expected of her changed and so did her behavior.
Once she was older and looked back on it, she could not understand how she had done what she did and judged herself quite harshly. It was a source of shame for her. As she began to relate to her own children, she realized that her parents had never sat down with her and discussed sex or sexuality. While they had told her that they loved her and could come to them with anything, that theoretical statement had no real grounding or topic. They never told her the things that might have prepared her for that situation or given her the understanding to make a different choice.
What kinds of things could they have said?
- You can always talk to me. About anything. Ever. I am here for you and even if it is uncomfortable or you think I’ll be angry, just tell me you need to talk and we will, with no judgements.
- Sex is a natural part of life, a gift really, to share with the right person. One you know you can trust.
- There will be other people in your life who choose differently, who behave differently. This does not mean that this is what you should do. It does not mean that ‘everyone is doing it’. Come and talk to me if you find this challenging and we’ll work through it.
- Your body is yours. It is beautiful, you are beautiful. No one has the right to touch you or make you do anything you do not want to do. There will be boys who are attracted to you and make you feel special because of it. They will want things from you. Do not mistake these attentions for affection. You do not have to do what they want you to do. If they care for you, they won’t make you feel bad about it.
‘Woah’, you’re saying, ‘my kids are no where near that’. Maybe. But I want you to see how quickly an assumed premise can be turned on its head and how YOUR a priori open conversations- as blunt as they can be so that your child can understand and knows that s/he can come to you– not just theoretically but because they have seen you tackle the tough stuff- can prevent that from happening.
The media does not help us raise kids with perspective grounded in reality. Sex and nudity abound. According to Dr. Debow, only 3% of women in the world look like those we are inundated with in the media. Photoshop and anorexia are rampant and both sexes must know that healthy and beautiful comes in many shapes and sizes.
Dr. Ruth stated that while she used to tell parents that they should not read their children’s diaries, she no longer does. She said she changed her position because society today is too open and accessible. Kids are posting pictures of themselves in various states of undress, in various situations and they don’t understand the ramifications of these acts.
I am not advocating that you read your child’s diary. I personally advocate being more open and accessible to your child than the internet. Set rules, have them use the computer in an open place in the house and when they are old enough, talk about the dangers.
Just like, “It’s not your driving I don’t trust, its everyone else’s,” I explain to my kid that its not him I don’t trust. That there are lots of things on the internet that are not appropriate for him – or even me – and unfortunately, once we see or hear things, it is impossible to un-see or hear them. He may not understand what exactly I am protecting him from, but he knows it’s because I love him and not because I don’t trust him.
Keeping a society sexually healthy and balanced is on both of the sexes.
There shouldn’t be one ‘talk’ but a series of open conversations that build communication and comfort. Before they hit puberty, begin with their bodies and what they can expect to happen and why; i.e. your body is getting ready so one day you can be a mommy/daddy. Answer the questions they ask. Sometimes when they ask where your baby came from, they are only asking which hospital he was born in (true story). So, listen to your kids and talk so they can hear you- at their level.
As they get older, girls and women should be made aware of the male perspective -if the Dad can do it without terrifying the girls all the better. Mom’s can discuss why wearing certain kinds of clothing is probably not the way she wants to present herself. Kids just do not understand how clothing gives off messages- they aren’t there yet- I can recall this clearly can’t you?
We have to help them. This MUST be done with love and understanding NOT GUILT. Telling a girl that it is her fault if a man ______ is cruel, a lie and will have a damaging effect on her. Don’t do it. If you need help talking to her about it, buy Dr. Debow’s book.
Fathers! Tell your daughters that they are intelligent, talented, beautiful and wonderful. She needs your love and affection. If she doesn’t get it from you, she will get it elsewhere…
Boys must be taught that girls and women are people, not objects for their pleasure. That includes teaching them to listen, to focus on our words and not our parts. “No, means no,” begins very simply with respecting women as people. They must know that their urges are natural and should not be a source of guilt but that they must be controlled and channelled. Dads, you’re the ones who know what goes on inside a young man’s mind. You need to help your son become the mensch you want him to be.
Being religious doesn’t negate this – beard and hat do not a mensch make. Respect comes from inside and that is a parent’s job. It is not unusual for myself or other female professionals to sit in a business meeting and have the men in the room make sexist remarks. I have had male colleagues point out a woman to me, her dress or how ‘hot’ she is. It not only demeans her, but it is demeaning to me as well.
Just as we teach our kids road safety and how to swim, it is our job to teach them how to navigate the world of sexuality, to give them the rules and understanding that will enable them to appreciate and respect it fully, and to make good choices as they grow.