For parents and kids of all ages, it’s back-to-school time.
And while mastering reading and writing are unquestionably important for young people, sexuality is pretty important, too. That’s because of an intense brew of emotions, norms, laws, and cultural change that grammar school, high school, and college students face in 2019.
So let’s talk about some common concerns that parents have. Please note that these apply to children of all ages.
~ Information and words won’t hurt young people
Many adults are concerned that giving kids “too much” information will encourage them to try stuff they wouldn’t have thought of themselves. Science tells us otherwise.
Teaching kids how pregnancy actually happens won’t magically make them test out their fertility.
Similarly, there are no magic syllables that will damage kids. “Vagina,” “menstruation,” and “erection” are no more harmful than “woo-woo,” “the curse,” or “snake.” The fact that so many adults have trouble with accurate words doesn’t mean that kids are destined to—in fact, just the opposite. If you get humans comfortable with actual words for their body parts and processes when they’re kids, they’ll be comfortable with them 20, 30, and 40 years later. Which is exactly the point.
~ Masturbation is OK
The way some adults hide or demonize masturbation, you’d think it was some newfangled thing with unknown side effects. Of course, the opposite is true—people have been pleasuring themselves since the beginning of time (why do you think our arms are so long!), and no one has suffered or died from its physical effects.
Emotional effects, of course, are another thing. Uncounted people—children and adults—suffer guilt, anxiety, and shame about this basic human activity. When I lecture to parents about childhood sexuality, I always get questions about how to “handle” masturbation—or even worse, how to prevent it.
I tell such parents to “handle” their kids’ self-pleasuring the way they (should) handle every other part of their youthful sexuality—talk about it, validate kids’ experience, provide some boundaries (“not in church or at the dinner table, please”), and encourage (not discourage!) more questions.
Discouraging or preventing masturbation? It can certainly be done—as long as you’re willing to torment your kid with guilt and shame.
~ Sexplay among kids
With today’s attention to sexual coercion and exploitation, it’s equally important to acknowledge that healthy children play with each other sexually. They’re curious about their own and others’ bodies, they want to feel connected to their friends and cousins, they enjoy the pleasure, and once they discover it’s taboo, of course they want to do it more.
Sounds just like adults, doesn’t it?
A simple guideline is that if the kids are close in age, and no one’s feeling pressured, and no one’s being hurt physically, it’s almost certainly harmless (in children old enough to get/cause pregnancy, that must be covered, of course).
If a parent stumbles onto kids playing doctor or some other sex game, staying calm is certainly the most important response. If an adult observes or suspects actual coercion, of course, interrupting and investigating it are appropriate.
Critical note: caring adults should be very, very, very slow to report any activity between same-aged children to Child Protective Services. When it comes to kids, things with government agencies can careen out of control very quickly.
~ Sexting is not wise
Kids of every age love exploring and demonstrating their autonomy. And kids have a lot of trouble imagining that although they own their own bodies, they do not own the right to photograph or video their bodies nude or sexual. Kids are understandably confused about adults’ hysteria about them sharing nude photos of themselves with their friends.
And yet, the evidence is absolutely clear: government at every level will destroy the lives of young people who they catch sexting. Just last week, Maryland’s highest court upheld child pornography distribution charges against a then-16-year-old who texted two friends a one-minute video of herself involved in a sex act.
Kids of every age need to understand the concept of “Sexuality is a good thing, although the grownups in charge have decided it’s very dangerous to take or share sexy pictures of yourself until you’re an adult. That’s the rule and you must follow it.”
Kids are hearing about gender dysphoria, gender as a continuum, transgenderism, etc., so you need to pay attention to that.
Here’s what you can tell kids (of all ages):
~ Everyone deserves respect, no matter what
~ Bullying is never OK—either to participate in or to watch
~ If you think you’re just a “regular boy” or “regular girl,” it’s OK
~ No, you’re not going to turn into a different gender if you won’t want to
~ If you’re confused, come and talk with me
~ By the way, I [the parent] know exactly what gender I am
Most kids can benefit from increased empathy and curiosity about people different from them. They can also decide that they’re a basic (male or female) gender rather than a more complex one—and that this doesn’t make them mean, old-fashioned, or clueless. If a kid is what the gender-fluid movement calls “cis-gender,” they shouldn’t feel pressured to think more about their gender identity.
Some homework for all parents:
~ Find out what your kid’s school is teaching about sexuality
More than half of all states mandate sexuality education—and some of it is dangerous garbage, emphasizing pre-marital abstinence, lying about the likely consequences of casual sex, and refusing to use medically accurate language. It can be even worse in states that don’t mandate anything.
Find out if what your kid’s being taught is acceptable to you—and if you don’t want to become active in changing the school’s curriculum, make sure you correct it at home.
~ Talk about sex now—so you can talk about porn soon
When should you talk to your kids about sex? Now. If you haven’t spoken to your kids in the last 6 months, you’re behind schedule. After all, your kids have changed in many other ways this past year, right?
You don’t want a conversation with your kids about porn to be your first talk about sex, right? So get on the sex conversation now. You can start anywhere—including “I’m kind of embarrassed to talk about this, but let’s go.”
And make sure that your conversations about sex aren’t focused primarily on danger. After all, when you discuss nutrition with your kids, you don’t focus mostly on getting sick, do you?
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