I recently had a conversation with a dad about raising his daughters to be sexually intelligent kids. He asked if there are some conversations that are better initiated by someone other than a parent when it comes to the oftentimes awkward sex talks.
My answer is a resounding maybe.
Here’s the thing: We all have the power to model healthy communication with our kids. That might mean we have to get brave and start discussions that we find acutely uncomfortable. Nonetheless, we have the ability to start those conversations.
I think as parents we have an obligation to (get brave and) begin conversations about sex and sexuality.
AND, the parent and child dynamic at a given stage, or, a specific topic, can sometimes make a certain convo not just awkward and uncomfortable but not terribly valuable in terms of the ultimate goal which is to raise a sexually intelligent kid.
Given the amazing number of inputs our kids receive on the topic of sex and sexuality from popular culture and their peers, I think the ‘it take a village’ approach is a good one. Now, many of us have this built in already and have friends or extended family who provide our kids with some of life’s harder lessons – about sharing, respect, consumerism, being something other than a jerk which comes naturally to all of us at one time or another.
Underpinning our perspectives on sex and sexuality are our values. Imposing values on other peoples children is something that (rightly) many of our nearest and dearest would not think of doing. So if we want to encourage their engagement as sex and sexuality educators, we gotta ask.
Sometimes a step-parent provides enough parental distance to communicate information around sexual health and create an environment for open communication. Sometimes a ‘cool aunt’ or ‘awesome uncle’, even if they only see your kid twice a year, can be an important educator and confidante to your kid as they grow and develop sexual awareness and skills. Maybe you have a friend whose free-spiritedness and comfort is notably special to your kid and you would be happy for their perspective to inform your child’s understanding of sex and sexuality.
These are all people who you can talk to about asserting their influence on your child. If you feel like you know all that you need to know about their perspectives and values on sex and sexuality, you can give them carte blanche to actively discuss the issues with your child as they see fit. You can trust them to bring up the topics in a timely and responsive way and leave it at that.
Or you can have a slightly more active hand and encourage this part of their relationship.
Specifically, if there is a person willing to talk to your kid about sex and sexuality, you can tell them if there are specific issues that you want discussed or reinforced with your child. It could be as easy as a text message before your daughter and her ‘Aunt’ have a date together.
You can ask your friend/family member to let you know when conversations about sex and sexuality have occurred so that you can be sure to reinforce their messages or as a way, quite simply, of having a sense of what is going on in your child’s life if they are giving you the silent treatment. I think there are ways to be provided with a head’s up while still respecting confidentiality between your child and their trusted ally.
If you have friends or family who you think are up for the job, there are a couple of things you might want to discuss with them in advance. Consider having a conversation with them about:
- Each of your values and beliefs around sexuality, especially as they relate to young people. Do you hold similar perspectives on 16 year olds being sexually active? How about your views on some of the other *hot* issues relating to sex and sexuality? Are your perspectives on abortion aligned, for instance? How about gay adoption? Or the hyper-sexualization of young women?
- How you think your child (or children in general) are impacted by mass media and social media. Share with each other what messages you think young people need to skillfully navigate the messages they receive from popular culture.
- The correlation between drugs and alcohol and sex. Do you prefer a harm-reduction model of educating your kids? Do you have a zero-tolerance for substance use when it comes to your kids? How do you communicate about this to your kids?
- How you ideally wish conversations to be framed. For instance, I might say “I like to root conversations around sex and sexuality around respect – for self and others. So no matter what the specific topic, I like to throw in something about how it relates to loving self and/or building healthy relationships. I’m hoping you see the value of that approach, and might consider it yourself as you talk to …”.
As you undertake this conversation, ask yourself whether your beliefs are similar enough that sharing their perspective won’t conflict with your approach to raising your child. Differences of opinion don’t necessarily mean this special person can’t be a trusted source of information for your kid. It’s good to identify your differences and articulate if there are places you would like your friend not to go. They, of course, can tell you what they’re comfortable doing or not doing. Sometimes they may be in a good position to say to your kid ‘I know your dad and I have different ideas on this. Both are valid and understanding them can help inform your perspective on the issue.’
The other thing you can ask of a friend is whether they’re comfortable serving as an example as you talk to your kids. It is oftentimes useful and wise not to talk about your own sexual experiences with your children but having real life examples can be beneficial. Sometimes its adequate to say ‘I know someone who….’ but it can also be very powerful when you have permission to say ‘Uncle Bill did this and that…’.
Personally, I want lots of people who I respect to inform my children on issues of sex and sexuality. I want to surround my kids with people who model respectful relationships and who communicate about others in a righteous manner. I want my kids to spend time with people who notice the world around them and get a bit fired up about it. I know that my kids are learning from the constant (visual and auditory) stimulus surrounding them even when it goes unmentioned. And, I want it mentioned, and not only by me.
I want my kids to hear perspectives about sex and sexuality that are thoughtful and broader than what is communicated to them by the mass media and their peers. I can’t do it alone. So I gotta ask for help.
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