This is a topic that is far too uncomfortable to discuss- yet one that we MUST discuss with our children. (and its long, I apologize for that in advance, but this is an important topic- one that affects the lives of millions)
I'm about to get real with ya'll.....
About a year ago, I overheard my 3 year old son tell his 3 year old cousin that they were going to get married and have sex. To say that I was completely and utterly shocked is the understatement of the century! Where on earth did he hear the word "sex" was my first question. We didn't have cable and we try to limit our exposure to the media, he can't read, and we lived in a great neighborhood with great kids. And to my knowledge his 2 older sisters didn't know what it was either so they couldn't have told him either.
Boy was I ignorant
I asked him where he heard the word "sex" and he said our neighbor girl. She's 5. And I know her parents very well... they are fantastic. Educated, caring, religious, always the first to serve in the community.... and yet their 5 year old had told my 3 year old about sex. I asked him if he knew what it was, and he preceded to inform me that it's when two people lay on top of each other naked and he knew it was true because neighbor-girl had said so. I asked him if she had done that with him (or vice-versa) and MUCH to my relief the answer was, "EW! NO!"
SO... great neighborhood with great kids- YES, innocent neighborhood with innocent kids- NO
As far as cable goes- We had Netflix and at the time my husband and I were watching a ridiculous amount of How I Met Your Mother. Always at night after the kids went to bed, but apparently my oldest (who was 7 at the time) had been sneaking out of bed and hiding in the perfect spot so she could watch it with us, without us knowing. And THAT is how she not only heard the word "sex" but was introduced to the concept as well. (please don't judge me- I'm being real here, and my hope is that you can all learn from my mistakes- and the lessons I've learned trying to rectify such mistakes)
I found this out after I had a candid discussion with her about sex and what she knew and understood about the subject
SO... 2 older sisters not knowing about it- WRONG. They knew.
This led me to countless hours of research on how to discuss sex with such young children. I read books, articles, and even went to a convention where Dr. Jill C. Manning gave an excellent speech on protecting your family in this pornographic world.
The following tips are my suggestions based on said research:
2. Use anatomically correct body terms. ALWAYS.
This is something Dr. Jill C. Manning ( A licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in research and clinical work related to pornography, and author of the book, "What's the Big Deal about Pornography?") is adamant about. And for good reasons- How are your children supposed to be able to understand the difference between cutesie jargon and hard-core pornographic slang with there is no clear line separating the two? Often times cutesie jargon (wee wee, pee pee) can become extremely pornographic simply by context, tone of voice, or who is saying it. Which brings me to my next point: Sexual predators NEVER call private body parts by their anatomically correct names. In order to trick children they rely on words familiar and enticing to children. The vagina becomes a “cupcake”, the penis becomes a “lollipop”, and so on. I’m sorry to get graphic on you- but that’s reality... and knowledge is power! A penis is A PENIS. NOT a wee wee, pee pee, wiener, or any other name. Same goes for “Vagina” and “Breasts”. Teach your children that slang words can be dangerous, and that if anyone begins to talk about their private parts using slang words it’s a gigantic red- flag!
I attended a lecture by Dr. Manning on this very subject a few years back and after her lecture I approached her and asked if it was OK to call the entire private area, “bum”. My husband and I had always used anatomically correct terms with our children- even before my quest for understanding how to discuss sex and and the dangers of pornography with my children- but often times I would call the entire area, whether it be front or back, “bum”. Not always, but like when I would say, “Wipe your bum.” My husband always called me out on this. Saying this was a big no-no. They are distinct areas anatomically so therefore you cannot blend them together. Its confusing for the child. I disagreed and said it wasn't that big of a deal. Dr. Manning agreed with my husband 100%. She told me that it was OK to call the buttocks, “bum” and that it was also OK to refer to them as “private parts” so long as you don’t avoid the anatomically correct terms all the time. By always calling the entire area bum, I was avoiding saying the anatomically correct term during a perfectly appropriate time to use it. She said that by avoiding anatomically correct terms you risk teaching your children that “penis, ”vagina, and “breasts” are dirty words and that because those words are dirty, their private parts must be dirty too. This is incredibly damaging!
3. Start young- believe it or not, introductory discussions should begin as young as 3. Topics such as:
*Modesty (here is a GREAT post on teaching modesty to children of any age- A Modesty Fashion Show put on by you- the "immodest" Mom.)
*Appreciation for our Bodies
*Respect for our Bodies
*and Commitment, loyalty, and Love
are all topics that should be discussed and taught on a regular basis all throughout their childhood and adolescence. These topics are the ANTI to pornography. They are the cryptonite to pornography, if you will! If you can help your child internalize the importance of Modesty and respecting theirs and others bodies you will be giving them a gift so powerful that it could literally protect them and keep them safe! As your child grows, “booster talks” and related discussions should be used to expand their understanding and help them internalize and recommit the correct principals, values, and morals he’s been taught. Talks about sex in the media (TV shows, music videos, even magazine covers which are almost completely unavoidable at the check out counters in grocery stores these days) rape and sexual abuse (which is on the news regularly) masturbation, prostitution, puberty, and birth control are just a few examples for your “booster talks”.
The key here is to discuss these topics early enough to be preemptive (discussing them before they get the information elsewhere) but late enough so that you know they are cognitively ready for these deeper subjects. You don’t want to take away their innocence when they aren’t ready or create unnecessary fear and worry in them.
I’ve read several books and articles on this subject and the general consensus from the professionals is between the ages of 10-12. That seems young to some of you I’m sure, but if you look at the statistics above maybe you’ll understand why.
Once your child reaches the age of 11/12, or middle school age, your discussions should shift from basic knowledge to teaching him about how to view and what to do. It becomes about attitude and behavior rather than knowledge. Which leads me to my next step:
4. Teach your child that they have the power to look away and walk away, from anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
This step is HUGE in my opinion. I can't be with my Littles every minute of every day, and they will someday leave my nest into a very pornographic world that is just getting worse and worse. My children MUST know that they always have the power to look away from anything that makes them feel uncomfortable... even if that's just a magazine cover. In our family we reiterate this with modesty, respect, and privacy. This is a great lesson to teach while you are waiting to check out at the grocery store and there is a scantily clad woman on the cover. If you see them looking at it, ask them how it makes them feel? Embarrassed? Uncomfortable? Tell them that’s perfectly natural and that it makes you feel that way too. Suggest that you both look away and tell them that they always have the power to look away from anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Dr. Manning used an example in her lecture about a father who saw his son glancing at a magazine cover while waiting for checkout and he simply suggested that they look away and give that woman on the cover the same respect and privacy that they give Mom when shes in the shower. Pornography addiction comes with a feeling of helplessness. And it usually starts with something as simple as scantily clad men and women well before it turns into nudity and pornography. Teaching your child that they have the power to look away and the power to say no, and making sure that they internalize it is a powerful tool in this pornographic world.
Have you discussed the dangers of pornography with your child(ren)? I'd love to know any tips, suggestions, advice, or stories on the subject. This is such a sensitive subject, but one that I know affects the lives of many! This is an ongoing lesson that I am trying to instill in my children so any valuable advice or encouragement is always appreciated. Leave a comment below if you want to share something with me or with the parenting community. Remember, it takes a village!
Here are some more recommendations for follow up research:
This post added to the Women Living Well Linky Party