About birds and bees and PG-13s
About those birds and bees.
QCan you suggest a response to a 6-year-old who has read the rating information for a PG-13 (I think) movie and asks, “What are ‘sexual situations’?”
AThis is life handing you the opportunity to begin to speak with your child about sex and his or her own body. And to anyone who asks me to “suggest a response” to a child who is asking tough questions, here is what you need to know: Tell the truth.
There is an age-appropriate way to tell the child the truth to every conceivable question in the world. The answer is not the issue; our parental discomfort is the problem.
And trust me, the first timemy child (who was 6 years old at the time) asked me, “Mom, how are babies made?” I began to sweat like I was guilty and on trial. I had coached other parents to do this for years. I had spoken to children about reproductive systems and menses and puberty for years. But when I was a mom, facingmy child? I froze up. After a couple of deep breaths and fumbling around, I provided enough answers to satisfy her curiosity. But that was really only the beginning. Now, I have children with different personalities (and one of the brink of puberty), and the questions about gender, sexuality and changing bodies do not go away. They just become more relevant, more immediate, and it becomes clearer that I need to be the leader and truth teller here.
So in the spirit of embracing the realities of life, in the spirit of encouraging truth over embarrassment or shame, of being your child’s guide and go-to person for this truth, let’s look at this “sexual situations” issue.
Sex education for young children is not really about sex. It is about biology. We don’t shy away from telling our children about their hearts or their livers or their brains, but as soon as we get to their “private parts,” we feel weird. We make it sexual. But until we parents make it weird, the kids don’t see it thatway. They are fully integrated into their bodies, and nothing is bad or wrong or taboo. So, when children are very young, address every part of their bodies by its real name. Simply doing this goes a long way in helping children feel more comfortable with asking more questions later.
Nature is also a beautiful way to introduce children to reproduction. (They don’t call it the birds and bees for nothing.) From books in the library to little videos to simply going to the zoo, it is easy to find windows to show children that sexuality and reproduction are a normal part of life, for many creatures all over the world. Including humans.
But you don’t have to overdo it. Too much information too soon can make children feel nervous, insecure and overwhelmed. It’s best to follow their lead and answer their questions honestly. The more questions they ask, the more answers you give. If you don’t know the answers, you are allowed to say, “I don’t know; I have to look into that!” You are also allowed to change the subject if you feel like the waters are getting deep and hard to navigate.
Often we as parents are not sure how we feel about certain subjects, and if you feel like you are getting cornered, you have the right to say, “Hmmm, this is complicated. I will need to think about that some more . . . .” As long as you don’t shame the child, make her feel guilty for asking questions, or embarrassed for wondering about normal things, you are not going cause any long-term psychological damage.
A parent doesn’t need to be an expert. A parent simply needs to be willing to listen and communicate. Again, no perfection, just a willingness to try.
When the child brings a direct question that culture has handed him (such as “What are sexual situations in movies?”), you answer it. “Well, it means that there is kissing and long hugging, and it is only for adults to watch.”
Chances are pretty good that the average 6-year-old child will stick out his tongue and make a face, maybe even run away. But wait for a response. Allow the child to think. He may ask more questions. It may go to the level that it did withmy 6-year-old: “What came out of Daddy’s penis to make the baby in your uterus?” Even typing that sentence gives me the vapors, but years later, I amso grateful that I mustered up the courage to be brave and tell her the truth.
So, be age-appropriate, be brave, follow your family values and trust in your wisdom. This seems to be about one small question, but this is an invitation to step into your role as a courageous guide. You can do it.
If you need a little help, these books have been helpful to me:
“It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends” by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley.
“Amazing You: Getting Smart about Your Private Parts” by Gail Saltz.
“Talk to Me First: Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids’ ‘GoTo’ Person About Sex” by Deborah Roffman. (I highly recommend anything that Roffman writes.)
“Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens” by Justin Richardson and Mark A. Schuster.
“Sex education for young children is not really about sex. It is about biology.”