Last night I attended an absolutely fantastic workshop for parents about teaching kids about sex and sexuality. My expectations were not very high – or, more specifically, I didn’t have any expectations. But I left feeling educated and empowered.
The woman running the workshop has a lot of experience and background on this topic and clearly did a ton of research. We were all there to help review the workshop, provide feedback on the content, and have a general discussion on the topic. We probably helped her out a little, but we all left feeling like we got so much valuable insight and education.
It’s a topic that is pretty taboo in our culture. As the presenter mentioned, using the words “kids” and “sex” in the same sentence makes many of us cringe. It’s not a workshop I would have signed up for myself — after all my kid is only seven! But this is a workshop that is going to be offered to parents of preschoolers (among many other parents as well). After listening to what this woman had to say, starting early makes complete sense.
The idea that we sit with our kids on one big day to talk about the “birds and the bees” is an intimidating and antiquated idea. In reality, these conversations start very early and are short discussions that happen constantly throughout a child’s life. Being able to start these conversations at an early age sets a precedent that it’s okay to ask your parents these questions.
The other point that resonated with me is: we need to know what we ourselves believe about sex. When she put this question forward, I was unsure. Nothing really came to mind as it’s not something I think about very often. Once she started asking questions, I realized I do have some pretty strong beliefs in this area.
In order to teach our children about sex (or about anything), we need to understand what our beliefs are, remind ourselves of our own history and how it has affected our beliefs, and provide information that is age-appropriate and also appropriate for a particular child’s disposition and emotional capabilities. We can think back to our own childhood and determine what our parents did to help us – what things we want to continue and what we want to do differently.
We discussed so many topics, that it would be hard to cover here, but they varied from young kids discovering their body parts, naming body parts appropriately, masturbation, the extremely important idea of consent, puberty, gender roles, different types of families, and sex in the media (by the way, once I know where and when this workshop is offered, I will let you know – I highly recommend it for any parent).
Consent is something that I am really interested in teaching my son. One thing the presenter mentioned that really stuck with me is that children need to be able to say no to adults in certain situations and that is okay. Whether it is giving grandma a kiss, having their picture taken, or hugging an uncle good night. To make children feel like they have to provide these kinds of affection because otherwise it might “make someone feel bad” may give a child the message that they cannot say no to adults or to their peers. I’ve always allowed my child to choose whether he wants his picture taken or hug or even say hi to an adult, but I always felt a bit of guilt due to social pressure. This piece of advice reminded me that there are other reasons for allowing kids to choose. The idea of consent becomes so important in relationships down the road.
Another aspect of the talk that resonated with me was the idea of secrets vs surprises. Secrets are something you keep from someone forever and surprises are eventually revealed. This helps me explain to my son why secrets are not a good thing for adults and children to have (which is how sexual predators often operate).
Finally, an important question was asked. What are your goals for your kids? By considering this end goal, conversations about sex and sexuality become more positive and focused.
What struck me most about this workshop (besides the fact that this very important topic is rarely discussed) is how gathering together as a community and having these difficult, yet important conversations, makes us feel united and empowered. It allows us to discuss particular scenarios in a comfortable setting, it gives us people to continue conversations with in the future, and it brings about varying types of people with different kinds of families points of view. It was a lot of fun – we ate good food, laughed a lot, and taught each other so many things.
No matter what the subject matter, whether it is money or sex or even the most mundane of topics, having conversations in a small group setting (perhaps with a leader to help focus and provide guidance) is something I want to try and do more often. It was sort of like my own mini 4-hour Chautauqua.
I’d love to see a similar workshop on discussing finances with kids. This is another topic that is confusing for parents to navigate. Perhaps I’ll even feel motivated enough to create one myself.