TALKING TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT
by Louise Hajjar
The other day, I overheard two of my sixth
grade students describing a classmate as sexy.ö For a moment, I must admit, I actually thought to myself, Does
the word sexy really belong in childhood?ö I thought, Is
it healthy for children to be describing other children as sexy?ö Then I remembered being their age in the 1970ís and being
exposed to sexual images on television, movies, and music. Then of
course I realized that my studentsí use of word sexyö could have been consequences of our increasing sexual culture,
peers, and not to mention, hormones.
Our preteens are constantly soaking up what
the media is selling us. Most of them do not have the sophistication
to understand that dressing and talking provocatively could land them
in a dangerous situation. Kids need to be taught that itís not all
right to put their hands on someone else without their consent. They
may also need to be shown that it can be a good thing to say, No.ö Getting touched inappropriately isnít a necessary part of
growing up. Perhaps some things have improved since the 1970ís.
Personally, as a guidance counselor and
a parent, I wish that the media would take its audience into consideration
and be more responsible when promoting sex to kids. We are not only
combating TV, movies, and music; we have added the Internet to the
actually believe that there is such a thing as safe sex.ö Unfortunately,
the reality is some middle school students are sexually active and
some do become parents prior to entering high school. What can we
do as parents and educators to increase human dignity and sexual responsibility?
How can we encourage preteens to enjoy these years as kids instead
of becoming sexually active and growing up too soon? How can we protect
our kids from being victims of othersí sexuality?
YOUR KIDS THE FACTS
First, we need to remember that sexuality
is part of life and an integral part of being human. To ignore or
avoid sexual issues with our kids can be as harmful as teaching them
incorrect information. Integrate sexual topics in normal everyday
conversation with your kids. This should begin in early childhood
and continue into the teen years. Many middle school students donít
really understand all the consequences of sex. Tell your kids about
all the physical, emotional, and social consequences about becoming
sexually active. Make sure they understand the facts about pregnancy,
sexually transmitted diseases as well as the impact on their emotions
and reputations if they chose to become sexually active.
Itís beneficial for kids to learn the facts
about menstruation and reproduction from their parents long before
they are interested in sexual things. Boys and girls should learn
about changes to expect in their bodies before these changes will
occur. Both boys and girls need to learn to respect each other and
be sensitive to each other feelings. Make sure your kids know that
they can always come to you if they have questions or need to talk.
AND ANSWER QUESTIONS
Naturally, kids have many questions. Most schools offer lessons in
human sexuality with parental consent, but these classes are usually
offered at certain times of the year. Often they are taught as separate
units and not revisited throughout the year. Although these academic
lessons are helpful, it is best when they are received only to supplement
what the students have already been taught by their parents. Listen
to your kids and answer their questions. If you need assistance with
factual information, use a book or a website as a resource. There
is a limit as to what school are permitted to teach on this topic.
Let your kids know your values and your hopes for their future. Reassure
them that their feelings, concerns and questions are normal and expected.
Encourage them to come to you instead of relying on information form
their peers. Remember to always validate their feelings. It may have
taken a lot of courage on their part to talk to you about sexual topics.
A POSITIVE EXAMPLE
Kids learn the most from what
their parentís do, not what they say. This aspect of parenting is
heightened during adolescence as preteens are struggling with forming
their own values and identity. When kids see their parents do something
irresponsible, they may react in different ways. Depending on their
age, personality, and life experiences, kids may react to their parentís
behavior with confusion, anger, or acting out. Some may seem unaffected
but may imitate the behavior without the maturity of an adult. As
parents we are constantly making choices and decisions that will best
effect our kids. Modeling the behavior we want for our kids, may be
one of those choices. This may also include teaching and modeling
tolerance and understanding for those who are different from us. Teach
them through your words and actions about the fundamentals of respect.
YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Talk to your children about appropriate,
social sexual behavior. Teach your sons and daughters about sexual
harassment. Children just entering adolescence need to be taught about
sexual harassment and how to avoid potentially problematic situations
both in and out of school. Sexual harassment is unwanted, repeated,
sexual comments or touching. Tell your preteens to respect others
and to recognize disrespect towards them. This may include teasing,
name-calling, and unwanted touching. They should be aware that when
they are not with you, there is safety in numbers. Tell them about
the warning signs of adult predators when your children are out in
public without you. Again, we canít assume that kids will understand
what is socially acceptable behavior and what is inappropriate.
It is our sincere hope as parents,
that our kids will make it through adolescence with no or few scars,
physical or emotional. As we all know, there are no guarantees in
parenting. Open and honest communication is one way to help kids to
make responsible and healthy choices throughout their preteen and
teen years. Listening and acknowledging their questions and concerns
is crucial for kids to realize their parents experienced similar growing
pains when they were young.
(Louise Hajjar Diamond is a guidance counselor, freelance
writer and mother of two. To reprint this article, e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)