Friday, March 19, 2010

Why I will never have The Talk with my kids

Photo credit by Leo Reynolds on Flickr
On the message boards where I post there have often been questions about when to have The Talk with children. Frequently, the children in question are already past the average age for puberty. I realize that this is an uncomfortable topic for many families, but in our home, we've decided to never have a big, single conversation about sex with our kids. Instead, we consider it our responsibility to them to teach them from birth about their sexuality, just as we teach them about God, about character qualities we want them to develop and everything else that is important to us.

One of the first things we have done is teach them the correct names of all their body parts. Research actually shows that this helps protect kids from sexual abuse. I am not sure why, but I would think that being able to talk about it openly is a big reason. Children are less likely to think it is their fault and more likely to speak up if they know the correct words (and if their parents don't act as if there is something dirty about even naming those parts). I am sure that they will hear cutesy names from friends and others, but we've been teaching them the proper terms along with knees, elbows, ears and all their other body parts.

Earlier this week, Elena was running around sans diaper (she apparently has decided that she doesn't want to wear one anymore. The good side to this is that she has actually started using her little potty chair some of the time.) Joel glanced over and remarked, "Elena doesn't have a penis. Oh, yeah. She's a girl. Girls have a vulva instead, right?" It was very matter of fact. Ariana knows that the inside part where nobody can see is the vagina, and the outside part that is visible is the vulva. Both she and Joel know that the baby is growing in my uterus, not the stomach where their food goes.

We've answered any questions they have honestly (and as simply and age-appropriately as possible). One of my parenting soap-boxes is that lying to children is never OK, and I've heard some pretty absurd lies on the whole topic of where babies come from by some parents (cabbage patch or stork, anyone?).

Rather than saving it all up for one tense, embarrassing coversation later on, we find moments during every day conversations to share our values and practical information. Of course, it doesn't have to be tense or embarrassing, but I think it is much easier to be comfortable when it is part of daily life.

Ariana loves the show iCarly. When dating has been a topic on a particular episode, we've talked about it. She knows that I think it is better to wait until you are much older and to develop a strong friendship first. The conversations are usually brief and not too serious or heavy, but they are frequent enough that as she gets older, I believe she will have both the desire and confidence to keep talking with us.

I've heard a lot of modesty teaching that seems to be a way to blame women for the moral failings of some men, and I want both my daughters and sons to take responsibility for their own actions and reactions. That said, I also find much of the sleazy, pseudo-sexy clothing marketed to young girls (haven't seen that for boys clothes yet) to be absolutely nauseating. Part of respecting your body means dressing with self-respect, and I refuse to buy or allow my daughters to wear clothing that was apparently designed by pedophiles who want little kids to look sexy. 

I'm not saying that preschoolers should know how to put on a condom, of course. At the same time, I think that parents should speak to their kids before their peers do, and that is often much earlier than parents wish. (As an aside, when did you first start hearing about sexual topics from friends? I remember hearing vague comments in first and second grade! When I was eight, a friend asked if we could lay down naked on top of each other because that was how you make babies and she wanted a baby. There was nothing truly sexual in her desire--she just thought a live baby would be cool, and didn't know the mechanics involved, or that both of us being girls would make a difference!)

I taught K-12 at conservative Christian schools for five years. In that time, sixth graders were talking about (and in some cases actually performing) oral sex. I've also heard from older kids who saw this as a way around "real" premarital sex. They were completely unaware of the possible emotional or physical consequences involved.

Which brings me to another point--so many parents just want to tell their kids not to have sex. I am very grateful to my parents, who consistently made it clear that sex was an incredible, wonderful, pleasurable gift. There was never any sense that it was bad or shameful--on the contrary, it was designed by God for us to enjoy! (And for those who are afraid that this might lead to wanting to experiment early, it actually gave me even more reason to wait until marriage before unwrapping this gift).

So, we won't be having The Talk. We make it a practice just to talk, all the time. And, if they don't ask, we tell them anyway, just like we would about our beliefs on anything important. We are wonderfully made--all parts of us, and they need to know that.

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This post eventually sparked a series about how we teach our children about sexuality.  As parents, we have an incredible responsibility.  We need to give our children accurate, age-appropriate information, not only on the physical aspects of sexuality, but also on the emotional and spiritual ramifications.  I hope you will join us in this discussion with your comments, links, ideas and stories.  For related posts, click here.

20 comments:

Pearl said...

What a gift your parents gave you and how wonderful that you are intentionally passing that down to your children. As someone who has struggled with shame around this topic, this is an inspiration to me. Thanks so much for sharing.

Paige said...

Beautiful post. I agree whole heartedly. My parents had it lucky because I was a question asker but even if my kids are not I will make it a point to teach them the truth without shame.

dulce de leche said...

Thanks so much. :)

Dionna @ Code Name: Mama said...

Wonderfully said, and we are doing the same things!

Kelly said...

Really enjoyed this post - and it's very encouraging!

Sex was not a huge temptation for me as a teenager, but I did have many feelings and urges I did not understand (and my parents never talked about any of it with us - not even The Talk). I honestly learned about sex from Cosmo after I was engaged - I felt I needed some education on it before I got married!

One of my biggest worries with having children is how very prevalent and accepted casual sex is in our society today...I wondered how I would communicate my feelings on the subject with my kids without coming across as totally archaic and basically useless.

It makes a lot more sense to me to do it this way. :) As ever, thank you to opening my mind up to new ways of looking at parenting!

Megan@SortaCrunchy said...

SO good. That's what I want this to look like in our family as well. We need to do better on correct names. I have two girls and for some reason it's been far more comfortable for me to teach them that boys have penises than it has been for me to teach the correct names for female anatomy. Wonder why that is?

Anyway, thanks for the inspiration and motivation!

dulce de leche said...

Thank you both so much!

Kelly, my mom's family was sort of like yours. Her mother never told her about her period until she thought she was bleeding to death, and then was only told that it would happen every month. :( Many hugs and much love to you--you are full of wisdom and grace, and your children are blessed up have you as their mother.

Megan, thank you! <3 You are so right about the gender difference. I have heard the same thing from other moms and it is true for me, too. I wonder why?

Ash said...

Brava. I agree, 100%! :O)

Jenn said...

I've noticed the gender thing too, for some reason it's fine for boys to identify their parts even in public, but with girls it's not.

Great post! I totally agree, this topic has been on mind a lot lately reading stories of lies women were told, or truths left untold.

I am honoured and a bit scared to be raising girls but I do know I want them growing up knowing how to love themselves and walking in who God made them to be.

graceling said...

Excellent thoughts. When I gave birth last fall, my 7 (almost 8) year old daughter was present. Of course, we had used technical terms and taught her about babies are made, and how they are born, for the duration of my pregnancy and even before. Being present at the birth of her brother was "really cool" (her words) and I think helped define feminine sexuality in a way that I want her to understand, not just the messages society sends. When #4 arrives this fall, both daughters (ages 4 and 8) will be present for the birth. I know this is controversial for some, but for us, it fit right into our approach to sexuality, which is that God made our bodies, gave us special abilities, and designed us perfectly to do his will with our bodies. Very straight-forward. I love that our kids feel comfortable asking questions. Even my (3 yr. old at the time) felt comfortable saying "this is my brother's penis. That's how he goes pee" to the nurse in the delivery room (although, she was QUITE shocked that babies were born without any clothes on! Never thought to explain they were naked inside my belly. :)

dulce de leche said...

graceling, that is awesome! My kidlets were with me during labor, but when we transferred they stayed home. I think it is an incredibly special gift to them to be able to be present for the birth of a sibling, and what a beautiful way for them to know deep down the power of a woman's body! <3

dulce de leche said...

Jenn, thank you so much! Blogger is doing weird things with the comments, but I appreciate all of the responses so much. :)

Lily said...

Inspiring post!! I completely agree with your approach to this and just love the way you are articulated it. I will become a reader after this! Thanks!

Nick, Olivia, Jake, Taryn & Kerstin said...

Thank you for posting the link to this on the Peaceful Parenting FB page. I had commented too and saw your link. Great take on on how best to do this.

dulce de leche said...

Thank you so much! Looking forward to reading your blogs! :)

Chantilly Patiño said...

Really great post comadre! I agree with every word of it! We're raising our daughter the same way. I don't want her to be unprepared like I was. I was shocked by the knowledge of my peers and was completely at a loss for how to respond. School was very hard for me and part of that was because of the hyper-sexualization that now exists in society. My daughter won't be wearing all that crazy stuff either. I mean, how can we expect them to keep their innocence when we're putting them into situations that makes it easier for predators to approach them. You're so right on everything in this post! Thanks for writing it! :)

MarfMom said...

i love this post! this is what we're doing with our two sons.

Anna c said...

I love it!

Ophelia said...

As a momma who is nudie on a regular basis to & from the bathroom, showering with kiddos I love this. People often act like I an almost a perv because I am so open with my kids & I feel quite the opposite. My children can see me naked BECAUSE the context is NOT sexual. Duh. i am not sure how much my 4 1/2 yr old grasps (as he forgets what the "uterus" is called - but he loves to look online at anatomical drawings to see everything from the workings of his penis o the lungs to uteruses (with & without babies in them) and brains & kidneys. it is almost his favorite thing to do these days. I can't imagine skipping the reproductive organs in that. :P

Leslie said...

Fabulous post! Lots of food for thought.