Monthly Archives: July 2008

Sex is Not a Four Letter Word (Talking to Kids About Sex)

Sex. It’s everywhere—including the bible. So what happens when children, in this case 4th graders, begin discussing bible stories in religious school that deal with sexually-charged topics? From the very beginning, the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar deals with reproductive issues.

 

In our community, this has created significant discomfort with some parents. A friend told me that since her daughter was born she had a plan that when her daughter turned 12, she would explain topics like menstruation and sex.

 

We’ve taken a different attitude in our house. I’ve always answered my kids questions—of course that doesn’t mean giving them adult answers, but doing so in age appropriate ways. This means starting with the most simplistic answer first and seeing where the child goes. Someone was told me a story about a child who had been watching television with her dad. When the commercial came, she turned to her dad and asked, “What’s a climax?” He turned red and got very flustered. Fortunately, he gathered his wits enough to ask where she had heard the word. Her answer, “The television just said ‘stay tuned for the climax.’”

 

My daughter knew the basics of menstruation from when she was a toddler. Why? Because sometimes I had to go to the bathroom when we were out, and in Washington, DC I was definitely bringing her in the stall with me. She saw things first hand, and it was either let her be terrified that mom was hurt or give a simplistic, yet accurate, explanation.

 

As for sex, when my daughter was in second grade, she wanted to know what those penguins were doing in March of the Penguins, and I answered her questions, while all of the time inserting our moral values into the conversation. I also told her two important things.

  1. This was not a topic for her to discuss with her friends. It is up to her friends’ parents to convey this information.
  2. If she did hear things from her friends, she should talk to me because kids often don’t have the facts straight.

My son hasn’t asked any questions yet. So for him, we just make sure he knows the proper names for all of his body parts. Including his scrotum—a word that caused a Newberry winning book to be banned by some school librarians. “The Higher Power of Lucky” includes the word “scrotum” to describe where a dog gets a snake bite.   At the time, NPR talked to boys in a Tuscon library and most had no idea what a scrotum was–much less that it was a body part that they had!

 

Many kids are taught all of the proper names for part of their body except for their genitals. In her book, From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children From Infancy to Middle School,” Debra Haffner notes, “When you use euphemisms only for the genitals, you are giving your child a message that these parts of the body are uncomfortable or different.  You may, without meaning to or realizing it, even introduce a sense of shame or guilt about this part of the body.”

 

Haffner’s book is the one parenting book I actually did read and highly recommend to any parent. I suppose I had my own parental induced hang-ups and wanted my children to avoid that. And, I really wanted to create an environment where they would get their information from me and felt comfortable coming to me with questions.

 

And when it comes to talk to my son about sex, I’ll be doing that too. Consider the findings from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health.

  • Teens who reported more satisfaction in their relationship with their mother were less likely to report having sex in the subsequent year, more likely to use birth control the last time they had sex and less likely to get pregnant.
  • The more disapproving adolescents perceived their mother to be toward their engaging in sexual intercourse, the less likely they were to have sexual intercourse.
  • Teens perceptions of their mothers’ attitudes toward abstinence are more predictive of sexual outcomes (e.g., intercourse, use of birth control, pregnancy) than actual maternal attitudes.

 

 

 

 

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Kid-sickness—Guilty!

Yesterday’s paper had an article on what AP writer Martha Irvine called a new disease, “kid-sickness.”

It used to be the homesick kid begging to come home from camp. Now [camp directors] have noticed that it’s often parents who have more trouble letting go.

They call it “kid-sickness,” a condition attributed in large part to today’s more involved style of parenting. Observers also say it’s being exacerbated by our ability to be in constant contact by cell phone and computer, as well as many parents’ perception that the world is a more dangerous place.

I don’t think of myself as a hovering parent. (Is there some sort of quiz I can take to determine this?) Yet, when it comes to “kid-sickness,” I plead guilty. And as Irvine noted, the need for contact played a significant role.

After my daughter begged to go to sleep away camp, I finally convinced my husband that it was a good idea. I had gone as kid for several summers and loved it. She had been away for 10 days before on a trip with her grandparents, so I figured I could handle a 2-week camp. Wrong! The major difference. No cell phone. No contact. Only snail mail.

I didn’t worry about her being hurt; I knew I’d hear about that right away. But was she happy? Had she made friends? Was she lonely? When her first postcard finally arrived, it was brief, but to the point. She loved camp. And she closed with these four words, “I am perfectly okay.” Clearly, my daughter knows me well.

When we picked her up, she cried to stay. No homesickness, just the joy of being a kid at camp. She even seemed more confident and outgoing as well. So, while 2-weeks seemed like forever to me (and even longer to her brother), we’ve agreed to let her go back next summer for four.

In the article, Irvine quotes Bob Ditter, a therapist has acted as a consultant to camps since the early 1980s.

“Parents love their kids a lot,” Ditter says. But they also need to let go sometimes. He is, for instance, absolutely opposed to the idea of Internet webcams that allow parents to monitor their children at camp.

 

I agree. Part of going away to camp, is going away.  It’s often a child’s first real taste of independence from parents. And that’s a good thing. As my mother-in-law reminds me, one of the major jobs of parenting is teaching your kids to become independent.

 

For Jewish families there may be another benefit. In article in the Baltimore Jewish Times, Doug Mankoff, executive board member of the Foundation for Jewish Camps said, “We know kids who go to Jewish summer camp are more likely to grow up with positive feelings about being Jewish.” And even more importantly, camp produces Jewish leaders.

 

Jerry Silverman, president of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, told the BALTIMORE JEWISH TIMES that as of 2006, 65 percent of Jewish leaders attended a Jewish sleep-away camp.

 

I imagine the same is true of camps for other religions. Does anyone have stats for those?

 

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