Admit it. If your child is little, your stomach tied up in knots just reading the title of this article. Even if you have tweens and teens, you may feel a little queasy wondering if you handled the whole thing “properly”. Teaching children about their bodies, sex and purity is often uncomfortable for the parent and the child.
Television sitcoms have added to the discomfort and confusion. Show after show has depicted “the talk” as one awkward conversation the “goofy” parent has about the basics of “making babies”which the child usually already knows. As a result, I think many parents believe they can get by with one “this is how babies are made”, “now don’t do it until you are married” conversation and move on with their lives.
The reality is “the talk” actually covers three major areas of conversation. Each of these should be addressed multiple times while you are raising your child. Why three instead of one? One is purely information. the other two are often intertwined, but at some point the second topic will give way entirely to the third topic. Trying to combine all three into one thirty minute chat would be like expecting someone to build a livable house after giving them thirty minutes of instruction.
God’s plans for our lives when it comes to love, relationships, sex and marriage are too complex to communicate well in one brief conversation. We all know studies have shown abstinence teaching is not very effective. I believe it’s not because it isn’t possible, it is because the programs remove God and His plans for our relationships and purity. Without God, abstinence just seems like a mean rule someone made up to deprive you of having fun. Who would want that? When our children truly understand God’s plans though, they can have the beautiful, healthy relationships God meant for them to have.
So what are the three major topics you should teach your child?
1. Changes that will occur in the child’s body and the bodies of the opposite sex during puberty. This discussion should actually begin as early as possible. Everything that happens is natural and just as “normal” as watching a puppy grow into a dog. For example, your toddler daughter might ask about your bra. it is very easy to say, “When you get older, your breasts will grow larger too and you will need one. When the time comes, I’ll go shopping with you.” Much of the stress of puberty is because of the changes the children see in their bodies. If they know from an early age not only what to expect, but also the concepts of it occurring at different ages for different people and that changes are a natural part of growing up, the changes will be less stressful when they happen.
2. The official “how babies are made” talk. By this, I mean just the biological facts. This talk will begin when the child is a little older. Please understand that today’s children are exposed to this information from their peers at a very young age. I know many parents are uncomfortable discussing the facts, assuming that as soon as their children know them, they will begin experimenting. Personally, I would rather my child hear the facts from me rather than a child who may be teaching them a lot of inaccuracies. Also, I would rather have discussed limits with my child than have her experiment with something she had no idea was a bad idea because her friends convinced her everybody was doing it. Many parents find this extremely distressing to discuss. There is nothing wrong with using a book to help you. In fact, I actually would encourage it as they tend to be more clinical in the discussion and use correct terms and show appropriate diagrams. Christian bookstores often carry an entire series of these types of books or your pediatrician will also have books you can use. You can read the book with or to your child or discuss it with him after he has read it. Most slightly sheltered kids are a little appalled when they first discover all of the facts. My advice is to re-visit the topic a couple of more times months apart to make sure everything was thoroughly understood and absorbed.
3. God’s plans for love, relationships, marriage, sex, etc. As you can imagine, this is really the most important part of your child’s education in this area. Unfortunately, it is also the part that gets the least attention. If it is addressed at all, it is often in the form of strict “don’t do this” rules. Instead these discussions need to focus not only on God’s principles and plans but also why He wants us to live our lives this way. Maybe you have never figured these things out for yourself. Perhaps you have a string of broken relationships or inappropriate ones in your past. You may be struggling in your own marriage and wonder how you can ever train your children to have healthy relationships. There is help in the scriptures and in some great Christian books.
I am going to share with you in the next few entries some of the best books I have ever seen for teaching our children about purity and finding the “right” people to date and marry. Unfortunately, I am still struggling to find one addressed to boys. If you are aware of one, please let me know so I can read it and share it with others. In the meantime, think about how you have talked or plan to talk to your children about these subjects. I cannot stress enough how very important it is for you to be very intentional in the way you approach these topics. The health of your child, the Church, our country and even the world depends partially upon us training our children to return to the model of healthy relationships and families God set for us. This is one area we cannot afford to gloss over in hopes they will figure it out on their own.