Remember the Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise scene in A Few Good Men…?
Jessup: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled.
Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I want the truth.
Jessep: YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!
Imagine if our kids asked us something about sex and we responded like Colonel Jessup. It would be outrageous, wouldn’t it? And yet, our kids do ask, perhaps not as explicitly as we might like, but they ask all sorts of questions, or probe for information, and very quickly our brains tell us ‘they can’t handle the truth’. So, we don’t answer the question or we beat around the bush, change the topic, distract or obfuscate.
This idea of people not being able to handle the truth might be true. Sometimes I think adults ask questions expecting a ‘you can’t handle the truth’ kind of answer. We all do it – ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine’ when really you could lay into a person with vitriol. When I was 22, during a family holiday, after my 12 year old brother called me a ‘coke addict’ as a show of twisted humour, my dad leaned in and asked if I had indeed tried cocaine. I answered the question with another question. ‘Do you really want me to answer that?‘ In other words, ‘can you handle the truth?’ . To be honest, I wasn’t sure he could since he’d then need to debrief the whole thing with the pre-teen next to me.
But with young people, I really do think it’s different. They are genuinely hungry for information and are looking to connect the dots and build a fuller picture of how to move through a world full of differing values and behaviors.
So whether it’s an explicit ‘what’s a blowjob?’ or a less refined comment about the girl in class that dresses like a boy, kids can handle the truth. The question is, can we handle giving it to them?
- Validate their question.
- If you need to, ask a clarifying question or rephrase it to be sure you’ve got the question right. For example, you don’t want to answer a non-sex question with a sex answer! [see the hysterical video below to see what I mean]
- Provide a simple and honest answer and wait to see if there is a follow up question.
- Feel free to say you don’t know the answer but will find out and let them know. (And then do it!)
- Thank them for the question and let them know that you are always happy to answer questions they have.
- Exhale. Ya done good.