when is the right time to talk to your kids about sex?

It’s a question often wrestled with by parents and leaders, when is the right time to talk to kids about sex?

The answer is simple.

The right time to talk to your kids about sex is just before they hear it from someone or somewhere else.

That might not be the answer you were hoping for. In fact, that probably opens up more questions than anything. How can you know when they’re going to be exposed to content on television, scribbled on a bathroom wall, stumbled across on a computer or device, conspiratorially whispered about amongst friends at a sleep over, or joked about in a locker room? It seems impossible to predict, and therefore difficult to pre-empt, but it is undeniably the ‘best time’.

The power of first exposure.

Our brains are wired to attach knowledge about a subject to the person who first introduced it to us in an informative or useful way. So, whoever first exposes us to information is solidified, subconsciously, in our minds as the expert on that topic. We are far more likely to return to that source if we find ourselves needing more details or, if we get data from an alternate source, we are likely to come back to the original source to verify or test it.

What an incredible opportunity that presents as parents or people of influence in the lives of young people. If they are introduced to concepts of sexual biology, reproduction, arousal, intimacy, consent, masturbation, boundaries, gender, safety, identity and responsibility by you, they are more likely to see you as a source of useful information and understanding on these topics. How much more preferable is it that YOU be in this position of influence than a child’s school friends, bus pals or anything that might spew out of a television or smart phone?

This doesn’t completely address the question of timing, but I believe it ought to create a sense of urgency and boldness driven by the value of equipping our young people to adequately navigate their own sexuality, understanding and expression in a highly sexualised culture.

“I don’t want to talk to my children too early because I don’t want to introduce them to concepts before they need to be … and I don’t want to arouse their curiosity, which might lead them to further (potentially unhelpful) exploration.”

This is a hybrid of commonly expressed concerns by parents when wrestling with decisions around timing.

The myth of early exposure.

It goes without saying (which generally means it needs to be said!) that when we reference ‘early’ conversations (as in, prior to when they might otherwise be exposed) those need to happen in age appropriate and ongoing ways.

It’s not just ‘the talk’ it’s a lot of talks. It’s a continuing conversation. Any thoughts you have, as a parent or leader, of having one conversation that articulately (and in completely non-awkward ways) covers all of the necessary topics and concepts your child needs to successfully land them in sexually educated, adjusted and healthy adulthood need to be banquished! Sorry! 😉

In light of this, any topics you broach ought to be couched in language and cover information that is able to be helpfully processed and absorbed by the individual child. It will be different at every stage of development, but it will most likely be different from child to child. Their level of maturity, sensitivity, social awareness, personal experiences, personality and intellect will all impact what they need to know and what they are able to absorb.

Tips

  • You need to talk about everything in order to be able to talk about anything. Developing a relationship of open dialogue with your child (about Minecraft and puppies and football teams and complicated school/friendship dramas and …)  will grow their confidence that you are someone they can trust to handle conversations about particularly uncomfortable or uncertain topics.
  • Ask your child to ask questions – and then ask more questions. “What do YOU want to know? What do you understand and what more can we learn about together?” Respond to only the questions that are asked and check understanding as you go. “Does that make sense? Does that settle what you were thinking about?”
  • Capitalise on ‘teachable moments’. Interact with books they’re reading or things they see on television – “Why do you think she/he reacted like that?” If your child says or does something that indicates a wrong understanding (like the Gr 5 child wrestling with a peer in the playground I overheard exclaiming “stop it, or you’ll catch puberty!”) or an awareness or exposure to something – speak to it, ask about it, clarify it.
  • Act normal! Even if you don’t feel normal, ACT IT! It is counterproductive to try and explain the ‘naturalness’ of sexuality and intimacy while you stumble over words, don’t look anyone in the eye and scurry off as soon as there’s the slightest break in conversation. So …
  • Practice! Practice what you might say, what words you might use, how you might describe certain acts, attributes or attitudes. Read articles or listen to speakers who can help you develop your language – it will help your child as well as increasing your confidence.

The myth of aroused curiosity.

Curiosity only exists in a void. It’s true, right? You are only curious about what you don’t know. Speaking about pornography or masturbation isn’t a guarantee that your child is going to go off and explore that more for themselves. They are far more likely to if there’s a gap in their understanding. If they haven’t asked the questions that they still have or if they haven’t fully understood what you’ve explained.

Tips

  • Ask comprehension questions “Can you tell me in your own words what I just explained?”.
  • Encourage active listening “Nod at me if you are following but stop me if I’ve said something that was a bit weird or confusing.”
  • Plan a follow up chat. “That seems like enough for now. How about we check in later once you’ve had a chance to process that some more?”
  • Monitor your child. If they have been disturbed or discomforted by what they’ve heard you might notice that in their behaviour, body language or responses.

What do you think? What have you found helpful or unhelpful in your own experience? What further information or discussion do you require to help you keep this conversation going (or to start it!)?

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rejecting objectification 

objectification : treating someone as an object rather than a person 

sexualisation : to make sexual 

pornification : the influence of pornographg on attitudes, behaviour and culture 

Objectification, sexualisation and pornification … we’re soaking in it! You don’t need to look too far to see this is true. A short stroll through a shopping centre, a flick through any magazine or catalogue, 3 minutes of online activity, or one episode of a TV show and you will be bombarded with images and messages that carry these themes.
These are some of the causes behind an alarming rise in domestic violence, assaults and sexual assaults, reported sexual activity and sexual regret, sexual addiction, young women presenting with health issues relating to aggressive sexual acts, erectile dysfunction in younger males, sexual addiction and related consequences (including financial, relational and career) … and the list could go on.

“The standard we walk past is the standard we set.” Melinda Tankard Reist

Education and awareness are key. We can shift attitudes and change our culture by increasing our alertness and sensitivity to the examples of exploitation, objectification and sexualisation we see around us.

We need to start asking more questions and developing our capacity to translate subtle (and not so subtle) messages in images and language that might otherwise be accepted as common place.


This image is of an activity conducted with youth. You can see the questions … “where is this lady’s head?” “Why isn’t she wearing a watch?” “Why is she so scantily clad to ask the guy for a date?”

The absence of a lady’s head is objectification. We don’t need to know who you ARE, we just need to use your body to make a point. The lady modelling for the watch brand is a gold medal winning athlete – she is shown neither for a talent other than her beauty or even wearing the watch that is so keeping with her ‘dedication to perfection’.

The old adage that “sex sells” is true – it must be for advertising agencies to continue to use those themes in their campaigns. But at what cost? What are the messages that we are consuming and allowing to shape our cultural understandings of human dignity and the value of people? What of the ongoing consequences for decreasing respect and distorted understandings of sexuality and intimacy? 

Time for action : what conversations do you need to start or understandings can you expand to raise your awareness of objectification, sexualisation and pornification in our culture? How can we empower our younger generations to reject the normalisation of these perspectives?


[see collectiveshout.org to add your voice to advocacy efforts]

your teen needs you!

There are times in the parenting (or leading and teaching) journey when this feels far from true. Your teen may not LOOK like they need you, they might not ACT like they need you and they may even SAY they don’t need you! But they do.

The cry of the teenage/emerging-adult heart is for relationships and community where three things are present – Trust, Respect and Belief. Sociologists report this drive as the key factors behind gang or ‘bikie’ culture. Such is the need of the heart that it draws a person to connection and belonging ANYWHERE these things are present. It’s true of adults too – but (hopefully) there is a greater degree of discernment to determine whether the presence of trust, respect and belief outweighs any negatives about the people or culture who are offering them.

Let’s unpack these three factors further.

TRUST

What they want …Teens want to be trustworthy but they also want to believe they are capable of trustworthiness and so will crave actions and communication that demonstrate this trust and confidence.

What they fear… Questioning their decision-making skills, their ability to consider all outcomes and options, or their self management or control, translates as an absence of trust.

What to try…

  • Give ample time and opportunity for your teen to explain what they do know and what they have considered (rather than assuming they haven’t really thought things through).
  • Ask questions or use hypothetical scenarios to extend  their awareness of potential outcomes and concerns and grow their consideration.
  • Express your desire to ‘assume the risk’ for the unknown or potential consequences of a decision rather than burdening them with that when their experience or vision is limited. In other words, sometimes a parent needs to be the one who decides because the decision and its outcomes are too weighty for a young person to have to bear.

BELIEF

What they want… In the face of sometimes crippling self-doubt, insecurity, fear of the future and competition teens will gravitate to people and places where they are encouraged to dream big dreams and imagine an extraordinary future.

What they fear… Youth are constantly wondering if they really have what it takes to succeed in life (aren’t we all!). They don’t have the history or experience of seeing how things will play out and so their capacity to predict the future is limited. They are highly sensitive to any inference from adults in their world that what they hope for or are aiming for in their future is not possible.

What to try…

  • Check any language that overloads current decisions or actions with future impact (“if you don’t do well at school you’re not going to have opportunities in work later”). Of course all choices and actions have consequences but then all consequences have options, grace and capacity for recovery. Finite, exaggerated or fatalistic language will scream dis-belief.
  • Encourage aspects of character, attitude and heart that, if they continued to develop them, will open up a world of opportunities to live a productive and impact-ful future.

RESPECT

What they want… As teens transition into adulthood, they are super sensitive to insinuations of immaturity. While they fight for independence they want adults around them to start seeing them as emerging adults and treating them accordingly.

What they fear… Commonly the language and tone we use when talking to young people is quite different to how adults would talk to peers. We can present as quite condescending and they feel that we are unable to see them as anything other than a child.

What to try… 

  • Ask the question “How would I handle this situation if this were a co-worker or peer rather than a teen?” (For example, if a coworker knocked a drink over at a meal table we’d probably be quite quick to help them feel ok about the mishap rather than chastise them for their behaviour.)
  • What actions or statements can you change or add to your interactions that communicate respect of their property or privacy, of their opinions and perspectives, and of their insecurities and fears?
  • Consider how you could deescalate a situation by prioritising respect – both given and received.

How about you?
How have you seen this need for Trust, Belief and Respect manifest in your teens? What do you recall of your struggle with this in your own journey into adulthood? How might you leverage this knowledge to bring greater connection with your teen?

 

5 things every kid needs || nosey parents

#5 nosey parents

Every parent will know that the way kids and teens relate to their parents ebbs and flows throughout their life. 

There may be times when children are clingy and needy; they don’t like to be away from their parents. At other times kids seem so independent a parent can almost feel redundant. There’s the “please don’t make me kiss you” or the “drop me off around the corner” phase. There are times when you are the source of all knowledge, power and entertainment and the times it seems you can know, say or do nothing of value. 

When it comes to raising children in faith, regardless of what your child may think they need or want from you – every kid needs nosey parents – at every stage. They need parents who are interested in their spiritual condition and concerned for their spiritual development. 

To this end, parents can 

  • Develop a faith-culture at home 

Deuteronomy 6 encourages the incorporation of learning and sharing of faith into the normal practices of home life – eating together, bedtime routines, and the regular comings and goings of life. Just as you would expect your kids to engage in routines such as brushing their teeth, expectations around faith practices communicates high value. 

  • Know the questions your child is asking 

And if they’re not asking any – ask some of your own. Stories shared about interactions had with friends, news and current events, or movies and TV shows, are all opportunities to know how your child sees the world and where God’s perspective shapes that view. Are they caused to question God? Do they understand His heart towards people or circumstances? What do they know of His power and activity in the world? 

  • Recruit others to shepherd and invest in your kids 

Know the names of your child’s ministry leaders – know even more than that! Know the leaders your kids love and why. Help the leaders know your child and your family better. Encourage those who have an influence in your child’s lives and champion them as your most powerful allies. 

Ministry leaders and other parents can also be a rich resource for you as you navigate difficult topics or responses to behaviours and attitudes. 

  • Know what they’re learning in faith groups and activities

If you get the “nothing” or “I can’t remember” answers when you ask your kids what they learnt at youth or kids ministry go directly to the source. Ask the ministry leaders what discussions and activities were part of that week’s session. You can still demonstrate trust in your leaders while also having a high expectation of communication of topics, intentions and responses. 

** A note for ministries and leaders …

You can train your parents to be nosey. Firstly, by your responses to their inquiries. Any sense of reluctance to share or a lack of knowledge will communicate to the parents that their inquiries aren’t welcome or they are asking for something that you can’t give (which is concerning!). When you welcome and engage with parental inquiries you grow their confidence to ask and your genuine intent to partner with them. And secondly, by answering the questions they should be asking – even if they’re not. Offering information to parents about what you’re observing of their children in your ministry or in their faith development, builds their confidence. Sending emails or “take-home” sheets that empower parents to connect with their child on the topic or story of the week is a great resource. 

Parents – what ways have you been “nosey” in your child’s faith development? What have you found most or least successful?

Leaders – how have you encouraged “nosey parents”? What successes (or failures) have you had in this endeavour?

5 things every kid needs || think orange 

#1 a really big God

#2 someone else

#3 another voice

#4 uncommon sense

#5 nosey parents 

Understanding Others #4 – “Help Me Understand”

In our quest to better understand one another an awareness of temperaments and personality types is a useful tool (you can read about them more here). None of these diagnostic instruments can DEFINE you and aren’t intended to PIGEON HOLE you but they can give us great insight into ourselves and one another. We can learn more about the kind of environments where some people will thrive and where others would be completely overwhelmed. We can appreciate that people will engage differently in social situations, that they will be motivated to action in diverse ways and that the way they communicate (talk, listen, respond or react) will be unique to their way of perceiving and receiving information and interpersonal nuances.

As I’ve previously mentioned, understanding firstly myself and then others in this way has been transformational – to my self-acceptance and appreciation, to all of my relationships, to the way I lead and teach, to the way I counsel others, to the way I give instructions and feedback … to virtually every area of my life that involves any kind of interaction with other people.

I’m sure you’ve all reached that point in an interaction with another person (or even an observance of them from afar) where you exclaim “I just don’t understand you!” – either out loud or just to yourself.

“I don’t understand why you would / wouldn’t do that!”

“I don’t understand how you can react that way.”

“I don’t understand why you made that decision.”

“I don’t understand how you so completely misunderstood me!”

“I don’t understand what you’re asking.”

“I don’t understand where you’re coming from.”

“I don’t understand why this matters so much to you.”

“I don’t understand … I’m sure you can fill in this gap yourself…”

Whilst for the most part, this indicates that we’ve come to the end – we’re exhausted, we’re overwhelmed, we’re sick of it: “I don’t understand…” can actually be a very empowering place to find ourselves if we let it be.

“I don’t understand …” is the gateway to “Help me understand” which is the key to unlocking a whole new level of interacting and an entirely different dimension to your relationships.

Solomon says, “though it cost you all you have; get understanding” and the reality is it might only cost you the time to say, “Help me understand.” It really isn’t that high a price to pay for the significant relational improvement that could happen as a result.

When we say “help me understand” we demonstrate that we place a high value on the relationship. When we say “help me understand” we are giving the other person an opportunity to explain themselves to US but also to understand themselves some more as they do. When we say “help me understand” we are giving ourselves tools for better interactions next time, for avoiding coming back to the same old place (y’know … the same old place!) for establishing a new way of tackling an old topic. When we say “help me understand” we are demonstrating a level of grace and submission that are necessary for healthy and helpful human interactions.

Try it out for yourself! Next time you find yourself frustrated, confused, angered or despondent over another person’s attitudes, action or speech; next time you’re in the middle of one of those circular arguments that inevitably escalate; next time you feel the disappointment of another person toward you or fear that you’ve ‘done something wrong’ … try these three words.

“Help me understand.”

More in this series
Understanding Others #1
Understanding Others #2
Understanding Others #3

“12 thoughts of Christmas” #2: the Santa Question

In Kids Ministry and more incidental interactions with children at this time of year, I’m always interested to see how children of various ages process the conundrum of Jesus “versus” Santa! Every church going child knows that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and yet, often, the presents that miraculously appear under the tree on Christmas morning have come from Santa (we know this because the cookies were eaten and his reindeer left half-eaten carrots on the driveway!). Obviously our community celebrates a Santa-driven Christmas season and yet we sing songs like “Away in a Manger” and have donkeys and camels in the nativity pictures. How can we reconcile the two?

Teaching Grade 2 (at a Christian school) there were always a few children who would loudly proclaim to all that Santa wasn’t real and even a couple that would go so far as to say he was ‘of the Devil’. There were then many conversations to be had with distraught children (or less-than-impressed parents) whose Christmas paradigm had been shattered.

My response was always to gently remind the children that all families have different ways of celebrating special occasions and, at Christmas, some of them have Santa as part of their tradition. Generally this was enough to quiet the militant few and was innocuous enough to allow the ‘believers’ to continue in whatever their family had raised them to consider as ‘right’.

The breadth of Christian response to “the Santa Question” stretches from here to the North Pole and I would never pronounce judgement on anyone for the choices they make within that … just some thoughts to ponder.

  • If you decide to include the ‘make believe’ of Santa in your family traditions, be sure to speak clearly to how that matches up with the real story of Christmas. There aren’t two different occasions being celebrated here – just the one; Jesus’ birthday. How do Santa and presents help us celebrate a special day?
  • The unfortunate flow-on effect of the Santa-based Christmas model is that the focus becomes all about “ME”!! What do I want for Christmas? What will Santa bring ME? If I am good I’ll get everything I want! The REAL story of Christmas is that God made sure we would have EVERYTHING we would ever NEED!! The humble nature of the nativity tells us that serving and giving are more important than getting and “things”. Children need our help to not lose sight of that.
  • Christmas is a time of awe and wonder for children. Who isn’t captivated by the sight of a small child whose tired face is lit up by a candle as they sing carols with their family or by the glow of Christmas lights tinkling on their tree; Christmas stockings that go from flat and limp to bulging with goodies – all while we’re asleep (whoever delivers them there)?! But I can’t think of anything more awe inspiring or worthy of our wide-eyed wonder than the truth that the God of the Universe would make Himself to be a human child. Born to a place and in a manner that even our pets wouldn’t have to endure. The greatest gift we could ever conceive and an act of the greatest love we will ever know.

What about you? How do you manage the “Jesus/Santa” question in your household and family?