You Are Their Model
Many people ask me how should they talk to their children about sex. My short answer is parents and their children must have an ongoing lifelong dialogue and not a one-time conversation. This next series of posts are designed to help you open your mind to new ideas and different ways of thinking about how to handle this challenging issue with your kids.
Think about this for a second —— “How did you learn about sex when you were a kid?” Reflect back to those awkward years between sixth, seventh and eighth grade—— kids were talking about sex. You had questions and maybe you asked a trusted friend or sibling. Maybe you saw things on TV, the JCPenney catalog, or if you were lucky you found a copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Some kids even performed the 1980’s version of Googling and found an encyclopedia to look things up. The key here is that you found ways to get the answers to the questions on your mind. You filled the void.
So what do our kids do in 2019 to find the answers they have about sex? Our multitasking, Facebooking, iPad playing, Tik Toking, Netflix watching, Intagram posting, Snapchatters have immediate access to information. Just like us they have questions about sex, but the difference is they live in a world of information overload. They are one click away from answers to any question. So specifically, how do kids learn about sex? They learn a little bit in school in health class. They learn from their friends. They learn from other media, TV shows, and music. Most importantly, kids learn a ton from the Internet
Despite all of this access to information what actually influences their decisions? The answer is YOU——The parents. Here is the good news. Parents still matter. Study after study shows this crosses socioeconomic, cultural and racial barriers. The number one influence on what a child believes, and ultimately is going to do about sexuality, actually comes from you. It’s good to know we parents still matter because sometimes it does not feel that way.
Parents are the model for their children. From the time they are born, your children watch everything you do. They are learning about sex from you all day every day, even when you think they’re not watching. They watch what happens when one parent comes home from work. How did you greet each other? They notice the intimacy, the engagement, the hugs. They see and feel the love a couple expresses for one another. They notice your reactions and emotions. What happened in a movie when there was a romantic moment? How did you react? When mom and dad are talking about other people’s relationships, they’re listening. When an inappropriate joke comes up in a movie or TV show they watch your response. You are their model.
I once heard a speaker described adolescent sexuality with this metaphor. Think of yourself walking down a long hallway with all of these curtains. As you take a step forward, you pull back the curtain and you answer certain questions. As your child gets older you walk further down the hallway and you pullback the next curtain and the next and the next. This is a great illustration of the ongoing dialogue we must have with our children. I believe children are prepared to understand any question they ask. If your child asks you a question then answer it on their level. Don’t be embarrassed or shameful. Since I’m an OB/GYN, you can imagine dinner conversation at my house is often very interesting. So my kids at a very young age asked me, how do you get the babies out? When they were young, the answer was simple. “When the baby is ready to be born, it sends a signal to come out between the mommy’s legs and sometimes I make a cut to help the baby come out through the mommy’s stomach.“ That was the answer when they were young. As they got older, I was able to explain in different language exactly what my job entails. Answer the question that they have.
In our next post, we will dive deeper into the subject of The Birds and The Bees and how to help parents navigate through this difficult subject.