|Photo credit by Leo Reynolds on Flickr|
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.
**********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.