Friday, April 15, 2011

Part 3: Sex Education for kids and A Chicken's Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids About Sex

Ok, so part 1 was about the presexualization of kids. That lead right into part 2 and the need for us to be educated about sexuality, because you can't teach what you don't know. So now part 3: actually initiating the ongoing conversation about human sexuality with our kids. This is intended to be a primer.

I read this book a while back: A Chicken's Guide to How to Talk Turkey with Your Kids about Sex by Dr. Kevin Leman and Kathy Flores Bell.  It is a very worthy read.  The authors condone open communication with your kids starting from pretty much as soon as they can talk.  Whether you are talking about what my boys call the "pee pee tatter" or the fact that Mommy is having a period, (For dads the periods are self evident. The kids will figure out soon enough that hormones lead to verbs of all kinds like rolling, jumping and throwing...rolling of eyes, jumping to conclusions and throwing fits...but I digress) it's important to be age appropriate and open.  Most importantly, it's important to watch your reactions!  {Get off my toes, docs!}  The way you react to anything and everything with your kids, directly affects they level to which they will come to you to talk about things.  Here's what else I learned:
    *At age 8-9, your kids are likely to be thinking about sex.
    *At age 10-11, they will be talking about sex
    *By age 12-13, without your guidance, they are likely to be having sex.

Ugh!  Not my sweet babies, right?  That's what our parents said too.
Well, let me think.  How old was I when I was first exposed to sex talk at school?  At school, I didnt hear anything about sex until 3rd grade. Away from school I was exposed at about 6. I am thinking definitely by the 4th grade people were talking about it, although, I can now admit, I didn't know half of what they were talking about.  By the 6th grade (that's 11 and 12 people), kids were talking about it openly, and some were for sure even doing it. I wonder how many were actually doing it versus claiming they were? I, myself, was panting (with a handful of my other girl friends who were not about to turn to each other, thank God) for my first real kiss from a boy, which came second semester that year. My first kiss came in 4th grade (age 9, almost 10) from a friend of my brother's that happened to be the time it seemed weird but now it seems beyond weird. Why would a 15 year old girl kiss, like really kiss, a 9 year old? 
So, why does any of that matter? Only to prove this point: I was thinking about sex early, why would I think my kids wouldn't be?  And how can I help them not make the same mistakes?

Our friends Tal Prince and Traylor Lovvorn with the ministry Route1520 must be credited with what not to do:


According to the books I have read, and personally watching some great parents I know, Mr. Dub and Wendi Hall, who now have kids in college, the only thing to do is talk...............and talk..................and talk...............and talk...............and talk....................and talk.................and talk..................and talk.

I can say that was one thing that I would have changed about my own childhood.  Kids need their parents to be a resource for them. To answer all their questions and help them open up.  People are just sexual (because God made us that way).  They just are.  So, even if your innocent little 10 year old is still watching Sesame Street and making marigold crowns, subconsciously he or she is thinking about sex or daydreaming about romance or lip locking or something.  

One more soapbox for me before I hand over the laptop, protect your kids.  Be the cool parents that all the kids want to come to your house, and let them come to your house and protect them!  Watch them.  Be within ear's distance.  Know your kids.  When Brook and I say to protect your kids that doesn't just mean keep them close to you at the grocery store. 90% of child sexual abuse victims know the perpetrator in some way; 68% are abused by family members. Your brother in law that is so great with kids and offers to babysit may be a great guy but those few facts alone raise red flags for me. The uncle that comes around at holidays and seems to spend more times with the kids than the adults...that's a problem. The older step-sibling that seems to get along with and play so well with your child...don't trust it. That's what Brook means by be in close proximity to your child, never assume the best or "they wouldn't do that", never completely trust your child's future to others. You are the parent, so get busy parenting.

Yes, presexualization is rampant, but even more so, one in three girls today are being molested.  That can really warp a girl's self-image!  I know from experience.  Be around for your kids, and protect their innocence as much as you can, but when they reach that age (what most experts say is 8-10) you had better be talking and have your reactions well-documented by your kiddo.  

I had quite another experience with being taught about sex. I "learned" from magazines before anything else as stated above. Having a very open father (in terms of discussing sexuality with me) and a mom that was relatively open, a graphic-alcoholic and probable sex addict, step-father, a brother 7 years older than me that had friends and fraternity brothers 7-11 years older than me, not to mention some of the girls they all spent time with that thought I was "cute enough to eat" (among other things) and of course the "wise" and "omniscient friends" at school was enough to receive a Ph.D. in dysfunctional, incorrect, immoral and ungodly sexuality. I did not have a lack for "knowledge" or some level of experience, but I was completely void of any semblance of healthy perspectives about sexuality. Some things in life are almost impossible to "re-learn" and I can tell you that sexuality falls into that category.

Recently Brook and I heard a statistic that has improved over the last year since we first heard it. The average age at which an American kid is exposed to pornography is 11. As crazy as that sounds, the figure last year was 8 years old. That says two things to me. 1. Our kids need to be protected and in so many ways you can't be too safe when it comes to the people they are allowed to be around and the access they have to the internet. 2. Well prior to age 11, a discussion better be initiated in the life of your child. The discussion shouldn't be a single talk or something you talk about even yearly or quarterly. In the same way we discuss school work, discipline, integrity, sports, camping and chores, why not discuss sexuality?

So what to discuss? I don't think that you have to make a production out of each discussion about sex any more than you have to break out the special books and diagrams to discuss any other topic that is usually and often discussed. The conversation needs to be age appropriate. For example, I wouldn't discuss the biochemistry involved in an orgasm and ejaculation with my 5 year old. We have been having the conversation with him about boys and girls having different anatomy and the need to respect the ideals of modesty and privacy. He also knows that certain parts of the body of others (male and female) are not to be touched by him as they are special areas. The inverse of that is true regarding someone touching his body. I use our 5 year old just as an example of what we are doing. You may disagree or think we are going too far or maybe not far enough.

To contrast the differences in what is age appropriate, last summer I took our 8 year old on a "survival trip". We had to catch, kill or trap our own food and sleep out in the open...roughing it! I used that trip to step up the conversation a bit and initiated the ideas of husbands and wives participating in an activity that involves their bodies, minds and hearts to express their love for one another, their obedience & worship of God and that this activity even is what leads to pregnancy. He seemed pretty uninterested in the whole conversation at the time. I'm not discouraged or encouraged by his interest level. It is what it is. I do know this though, when he hears someone explain sexuality in terms other than what he has already heard and understands to be true he will at least be skeptical. That's exactly what I want.

Kids pick up information even when we don't tell them something too. I think the ways in which we discuss sex (or the fact that we don't) speaks volumes. If sexuality is always spoken about in whispers the child will have to deduct from that that sex is shameful and isn't something to be openly discussed. If a reaction to a normal behavior is outrageous the child can easily understand their normal and usual behavior as evil and will then think that they are evil. It is difficult for kids to understand that behavior can be bad without making the person bad. If sex isn't openly and responsibly discussed between their mom and dad (or step parents as the case may be) the message can be intuited as an objectification of women or men. If sex is something complained about by the mother of father...well, you get the idea. My point in that is how important it is to incorporate healthy and Godly sexuality into your life, into your discussions and even as openly between you and your spouse as is reasonable and responsible. Will it push your comfort level? Probably. Is it OK to be uncomfortable if you are benefiting your kids in ways that will pay dividends for years to come? Absolutely.

Last but not least, never be afraid to tell your kids that you have been wrong or you have made a mistake. I have often told my Dad that one of the best things he ever taught me is to keep fighting and never give up after a mistake. In this discussion I would say that approaching your kids with information and initiating a discussion when they are a bit older is great. It's better to start late than to never start. If you are a little late to the conversation with your kids don't try to make up by covering up. You will make more of a lasting impression on your kids and be given much more credibility if you let them know that you are late, that you now know a better way to parent and that they should expect a change moving forward. Doing those things will set you up for a great relationship with your child and it will open your child's eyes to your new reality regarding sex.

This will hopefully lead to a lot more conversations about sex stuff and kids.  And I hope to hear from you soon.  Just one more shameless plugs before I go.  
As I said earlier, some of my favorite parental gurus are the one and only Dub and Wendi Hall from right here in B'ham.  They are great about openness with their kids.  We were blessed to be in their lives during the time of their kids (Brant and Laurel's) teen years.  I was always inspired by the confidence those two teens had.  They were probably never surprised by locker room or sleep-over talk.  They were hearing all that at home from experts who were living out the blessing of a sanctified marriage.  Whether Dad was pinching Mom's hiney going down the hall to the bedroom or they were whispering in each other's ear's over coffee in the morning, Laurel and Brant never lacked for a reason to roll their eyes or say 'gag a maggot' to the people they will forever get their own sexual identity from: their parents.