You know, something has been on my mind lately.
It's the subject everyone talks about, media bombards us with, and some hide in secret...and NO ONE wants to discuss with their kids. It's the birds and the bees!
As a disclaimer, I'm probably more open about these things than the average person. I suppose helping to lead very in-depth discussions on love, sex, and dating with teenage girls for 15 years, defining terms, imparting God's view on the subject, and answering every single anonymous question one could dream up, will do that to a person.
I believe many parents, however, are uncomfortable...totally uncomfortable with the subject. So, we say nothing...and by saying nothing, we allow the world's perverted and distorted view on the subject to become the teacher to our children.
So what's the answer? I feel like I've had enough experience talking to hundreds of girls about the subject in addition to having my own daughters, to have something to say about it. Maybe you disagree with my ideas or maybe you have something to add. Maybe you just need someone to tell you that you can do this. You can. Seek God first and He will equip you to have the hard conversations.
Ideally? Here's what I think.
#1 THE CONVERSATION STARTS IN THE TODDLER YEARS
Say whaaaa? When kids are asking basic body questions or showing curiosity about their own body, or ours (always fun), we clam up. Shut them down. Don't do it!! Kid's don't need an encyclopedia definition, but they do need answers! Give them a clear basic answer and move on! You'll be so surprised at their response of acceptance. To them, it's the same as asking "What's for dinner tonight?" They're curious, and you're the one God has placed in their lives to give them answers. Answer them in age appropriate terms and MOVE ON! This is a CRUCIAL time where kids learn that they can literally ask you or come to you with ANYTHING; it is safe, and they will receive an answer from a parent who isn't totally freaked out.
Which leads me to my next point....
#2 YOU FEEL AWKWARD...GET OVER IT...
You're going to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed, especially when they're little and they point, or when they are older and ask personal questions. To put it bluntly, suck it up. They're your kids...and you are the one who needs to do this job. No one else signed up to raise your child. And really, do you want someone else tackling this stuff with your precious gifts? You're going to feel awkward...and you can tell them that, but I encourage you to shove that aside and tell your child how proud you are of them, and give them the information they need to make healthy decisions in the future. I've felt uncomfortable to but it gets easier, I promise, because you can, in my next point....
#3 ANTICIPATE WHAT'S COMING NEXT (BUILD ON WHAT THEY ALREADY KNOW)
When they first ask where babies come from, kids don't need a diagram with a play-by-play...A mommy and a daddy make a baby...along with some Divine intervention.
"How?" A baby is made up of a part of mommy and a part of daddy that come together and then the baby grows in the mommy's tummy.
"How does it get there?" A mommy and daddy spend time together in a very special way to make a baby.
Now this is obviously a set of answers for small children. As they get older you BUILD on these answers. "Remember when I told you....?" Then you give them the next fact. It will get uncomfortable and you will have to use "terms." You can do it.
After these conversations, evaluate how you handled them. (If you feel like you missed something, have another conversation.) Try to anticipate the next set of questions that come after the one you were just discussing, and think about how you want to answer it. This has helped SO MUCH in my readiness to respond to my kids when they come to us.
They WILL hear things in the outside world and come to YOU for answers. It's so important to handle these things gently because they set up an environment where your kids aren't afraid to talk to you about uncomfortable subjects. The questions they ask will ALWAYS come before you think they're ready for answers...But the reality is, they come before you're ready to give them!
#4 THEY KNOW MORE THAN YOU THINK THEY DO...I PROMISE
I'm even guilty of this one. Even after encouraging parents for YEARS to send their kids to our talks on love, sex, and dating, I hesitated when it came to my own child. They know. Even your innocent, Barbie-playing 6th grade daughter, or your lego-building pre-teen son knows so much more than you think. And if they don't? They're going to start hearing things VERY soon from the world. I personally would rather have healthy values and TRUTH on the subject, set in place before the world attacks my daughters. I also make sure they know that, though this is how we do things, our job is to love others, not to attack those who don't do things exactly like us.
#5 TELL THEM THE TRUTH
They're going to ask you personal questions. Answer them honestly. You owe it to them. They're going to struggle in this area. Everyone does. Being honest with your kids is NOT going to encourage them to make the same mistakes you did. It will, however, help them to see the consequences and take a different path. It will help them to see that you're human and made mistakes too. Remember that when your kids screw up...even though it's difficult.
#6 DON'T MAKE A SPECIAL DATE, SNEAK IT IN
If you can, start these conversations young and use teachable moments...something inappropriate on TV, a conversation overheard, or an incident talked about at school. Have the discussions around a natural tangible event. Forcing these conversations, especially with older kids, just doesn't go well. But, if you must, do it in the car where your kid doesn't have to look you in the face, and they can't escape. :) (Remember, in this scenario, you can't escape either!)
#7 KEEP THE CONVERSATION GOING WITH YOU OR SOMEONE YOU TRUST
As kids grow into the teen years, it might get harder. Your child needs to know you care about this stuff, and needs to know that you're on his or her side. If they shut you down as they grow older, write letters, have short conversations, and ABSOLUTELY make sure they have people in their lives that they trust and YOU trust to have conversations with. The student ministry at our church is amazing. I would be totally okay with my girls going to them with their personal questions if they were uncomfortable talking with me...but I'm going to plug my ears and shut my eyes and yell over and over again that they will ALWAYS talk to their mother about EVERYTHING. :) Maybe they will... Regardless, keep trying. Don't give up. Even if your only feedback is an eye-roll and a grunt, your kids hear you.
#8 IT'S NEVER TOO LATE
Okay, you have a 15, 16, 17 year old...and you didn't do it like this at all. It's never too late. Have one of those "car" conversations where you let them know that you made the mistake in not talking about this stuff sooner. Keep it short and sweet and make sure they know that you care, what you expect, that you value hearing their feelings, and you're not afraid to hear or talk to them about absolutely anything. And then you have to follow through, even if you want to throw up. (See *suck it up* advice above.)
#9 STAY CONNECTED
We NEED to know what our kids are looking at. We NEED to do our research on apps, social media, their phones, their computers, and anything else that takes their attention. We absolutely have a responsibility as a parent to let our kids know that NOTHING is private. We might check their phones at random. We will be their Twitter follower. We lovingly tell them that we do these things to make sure they are safe, because having access to these things is a PRIVILEGE, and it's our responsibility as a parent to love our children with discipline and teaching. We try to make sure they know what specific issues we are passionate about when it comes to our involvement in their lives in this area, and what they can expect from us.
ASK THEM: What's happening at friends houses? What are their friends into? When they start talking about a subject, nonchalantly say, "Tell me more about that," or "Wow, you must have felt...," And when they say something that totally scares you and you want to react, tone it down with a calm..."That's interesting..." Be approachable - even with you don't feel it on the inside. You'll be amazed at how your kids respond. Every once in a while, ask their opinion on something....That can be a great conversation starter as well.
#10 PROTECT THEM
- In our house we have constant conversations starting from VERY young that your body is yours. You have a right NOT to be touched, and NO ONE besides mommy, daddy, or a doctor needs to be in your personal areas for check ups or bathing. If ANYONE tries to, even if you know them, you run away screaming...and you ALWAYS tell mommy and daddy everything even if, and especially if, someone tries to make you promise not to.
-We have and will have a rule as our kids grow: You surrender your phones before bed. Electronics/TVs/Phones/iPads should be used in open areas and they have restrictions depending on age.
-Our kids have restrictions on their devices. They can't search or download apps, google, or watch YouTube without a parent present. Even with these restrictions, kids can be exposed to inappropriate material.
-My kids are young. No social media until an appropriate, responsible age, and with a small texting circle, they need to ask before they text anyone.
-No TVs in bedrooms.
I don't claim to have the ultimate expertise on this subject or that my approach is the only way, but I have been involved in it deeply for about a decade and a half, and I believe that I have value to add to it. I see in my own preteen daughter, that this approach works. She's not afraid to talk about the hard stuff even though now, she KNOWS it's the hard stuff. I hope that continues and I have the same openness with my second daughter.
I believe we need to take back this topic for the sake of our kids. We owe it to them in a world full of perversion, misinformation, downright disrespect of women, and predatory acts to take down boys AND girls, to give them the truth and knowledge! We owe it to them to show them that sex is BEAUTIFUL when done in a healthy way. It was created by God! It's so important to create an environment where it's okay to talk about ANYTHING, even if it makes you uncomfortable!
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject or approaches that have helped you with your kids.
Conversation is essential. Encourage it. Welcome it. Foster it. Embrace it. Do it for your kids.