Where did you learn about the birds and the bees? Do you remember your parents giving you “the talk”? Did most of your learning come from friends, the graffiti on toilet cubicle walls, movies and TV, or maybe your best friend’s super-cool older siblings?
One of the most significant areas of discipleship and leadership we offer our children is in the area of sexuality and relationship – and yet, they can be some of the most awkward or feared conversations of all.
Here are some thoughts to consider – part of a broader conversation that I host with parents – to help empower you for this potentially uncomfortable yet intensely important aspect of your parenting role.
1. do the personal work
Each of us has a unique perspective on the topics of sexuality and relationship that is heavily influenced by our own life experience. Our ability to lead children in healthy and helpful ways is impacted by the degree to which we have reviewed and processed our own upbringing and history.
If you were sexually abused or mistreated you may pass on fears and stigmas that are unhelpful. If you have had negative experiences or made significant mistakes in your own past, this will impact how you approach these topics with your child. If you have had a sheltered or extremely conservative upbringing you may pass on uninformed opinions or ideologies. If you had multiple relationships or sexual partners, if you were a pregnant teenager (or made a teenager pregnant), if you had an abortion, if you had early exposure to pornography, if you’ve struggled with sexual addiction … all this and more SHAPES your perspectives, understanding and feelings about sexuality and relationship.
In humility, parents must to do the work of review. We are doomed to either repeat the actions of our own parents or react to them (and do exactly the opposite) – for better or worse – unless we stop and review what that looked like and make sober decisions about its validity or usefulness. Our own experiences can be redeemed when we allow them to inform and educate others to make better choices.
2. know where you’re headed
What do you hope for for your kids? What do you understand of the goal or intent of their sexuality? What type of relationships do you hope they’ll experience? How do you want them to perceive their own body and manage it? What empowerment or wisdom do you want them to be armed with? What situations do you want them to navigate intelligently and safely? How do you wish them to honour and respect others?
Knowing where you’re headed makes the pathway there more clear and more intentional.
The more ‘simple’ outcomes of saving themselves for marriage or protecting themselves from abuse or regret are a starting point, but there has to be more to your focus than that. Beyond the messages of “don’t” and “no” we have to endow our children with a sense of the beauty and joy that sexuality and relationship are designed to bring us and others in our world. Part of our created design includes this aspect of our beings and, as such, it is more than just a set of rules and guidelines that will help our children navigate the murky waters of culture and desires. It is a well shaped understanding of who they are, what God has in store for them and how they might ensure they are experiencing the fullness of His intent.
3. talk, don’t have ‘the talk’
It may be stating the obvious, but you’re not going to get this done in one conversation. It doesn’t matter how good that conversation is, how long it goes for or how many incentives are offered with it. One chat over milkshakes is not going to cover everything, it’s not going to accommodate for changing needs and cognition with age, it’s not going to give opportunity for all questions to be asked or all teachable moments to be explored. This is an ongoing conversation. Sorry for those of you who thought you were done! 😉
Make the most of opportunities that present to continue to shade in the big picture understanding you desire your kids to have. Ensure that each time you do talk about these kinds of topics it is left open-ended – ‘we can talk about this some more whenever you want’ or ‘if you think of other things later, be sure to come and ask me’. Engage with TV, media, overheard conversations, events in your family, song lyrics and the like to leverage opportunities to know where your child is and to keep the dialogue happening.
4. help your child translate culture
We live in a highly sexualised world. It’s not sensationalising to make that observation, it’s just how it is. In fact, it is so sexualised we can often be immune to the various ways overt or distorted sexuality permeates our culture.
Rising proliferation and exposure to pornography has changed the water line and we are now soaking in a highly ‘pornified’ environment that requires our intentional identification and rejection. In sociological circles, pornography is considered to be the number one sexual educator of our children. Young people are being exposed to pornography often before they’ve had their first crush or their first kiss. Pornography has continued to become more and more violent and aggressive and less and less (if it ever were at all) reflective of intimate, romantic, private expressions of love.
This article draws attention to the pornography inspired images that are common-place in marketing and advertising. A walk through a shopping centre or a flick through a mainstream magazine will see multiple examples of these images. This website Collective Shout promotes advocacy around issues of objectification – it’s useful for raising your awareness as well as empowering you to be part of the response.
We need to help our children reflect on the things they see around them and to decipher the messages they are being sent and whether or not they are to be accepted or rejected. At age appropriate levels it may be as simple as wondering aloud with your child as to why a lady might look so unhappy in a picture – do you think she is having fun, do you think she is liking what is happening to her? To observing in more mature ways the submission-dominance interplay, the perception of a model as an object more than a person, the idiocy of a promotional picture that has no point of reference to the product or service it is purporting to promote.
This is a teaspoon of thought from an ocean of ideas, understandings and considerations that we need to continue to drink from – but it’s a start.
ASK THE QUESTIONS … what do you struggle to help your children understand? What approaches have you tried that you’ve found successful? What resources have you found useful?