Most kids (please tell me it’s not just mine) have a trigger-happy response to many of the things we attempt to communicate to them. ’I know I know’ often flies out of the mouths of my young ones.
If claims of ‘I know’ have shut us down in the past, made us feel like the point has been made, and received, like we are harping on… then our kids may pull it out when we initiate any conversations about sex and sexuality.
We are not off the hook though.
Any claims of ‘I know that already’ should be gently confronted since even if they know something there is no way they know it all.
There are several things we are trying to accomplish by talking to our kids about sex.
First, we wish to offer them INFORMATION. This is often about biological realities, details relating to sexual and reproductive health and access to care. But that is hardly the extent of it. While kids might know some stuff, there’s always the opportunity to add detail or clarify misconceptions. This is also about helping them see that there are emotional realities to this broad topic and societal expectations and norms that are at play. These are not one off conversations.
Next, we want to offer them our VALUES about sex and sexuality. I remember sitting with my almost 8 year old and listening to Sam Smith’s Grammy Award speech. He said something about many people having experienced one-night stands.
So I told my kid what a one-night stand is. He was quick to judge it with an ‘ew’ and I was able to say that some people engage in them – and some enjoy them – but that the sex in a trusting relationship with someone you care about seems better to me. I didn’t shame or condemn one-night stands, but did share my perspective and values on the topic.
Another thing we can develop in our kids are ANALYTICAL SKILLS. This is about helping them see the complexity of an issue and work out their own nuanced perspectives and decision-making processes. This is best achieved through dialogue. You can ask them what they think, offer opportunities for them to reflect and share. It’s about debating the why and how and supporting them to have a more refined way of thinking and being in the world.
The last thing we are doing is building CONVERSATION skills. It’s about developing their ability to openly discuss sex and sexuality. I appreciate letters (like this one, written by parents to their children about sex – the content is great and the tone is responsive and conciliatory – but they do not help kids practice conversing about sex and our kids (all of us) desperately need the practice.
Parents often say to me ‘can’t you just come over and say all that to our kids?’ Being a sex educator has offered me a great opportunity to practice my key talking points about porn, or oral sex, hooking up or gender diversity. I get to practice, and you should too. And then we should all talk to our kids. Often.
And when they try to shut us down with ‘I know, I know’, we ought to explain that even while that may be true, there is value in having a(nother) conversation about it. Make it frequent, and it will become more comfortable – for you and them. It might be challenging but invite it to deepen their understanding, perspective and abilities. It’s worth it.