(Image courtesy : aintitcool.com via Google)
Small word, huh ? I know, by itself, it does not seem like much.
That word starts to take on a separate dimension, a totally different connotation when one looks at it from the point of view of a parent. That is when the shades of black and white cease and the shades of grey come into the picture. Simple question words like “When”, “How to”, “How much” demand much more attention and much more of thought than just a casual approach.
When I was a child, I simply don’t remember having had any discussions or question/answer sessions whatsoever with my mom with regard to sexuality. Even the standard question that every child asks at some point of time or the other – “Where do babies come from ?” were met with a response that was as standard as an ad for milk from the Aarey milk colony. I have to say that Aarey milk colony atleast used to change its ads for milk every once in a while. But my mom’s response was steadfastedly the same “You’ll know when you grow up”. That was it. Nothing more, nothing less. Just that one sentence. Period !
There were times during my childhood, when this one line answer of hers “You’ll know when you grow up” led me to imagine all sorts of permutations and combinations inside my head. There was a phase when I sincerely used to believe that babies “just happen” once two people exchange garlands and get married. There was another such phase when I believed that two flowers moving towards each other was what resulted in babies. Some pollination, that !! But thanks to good old Doordarshan and my mom’s one liner, my knowledge of sexuality was restricted to “flowers and garlands”.
Did Child Sex Abuse not exist then ? I honestly don’t know. There always have been perverts in this big world of ours, there definitely are perverts around now and I’m sure (unfortunately enough) that they will continue to exist.
An out an out open talk on all the aspects of sexuality has not happened with Macadamia and Pecan too. They do know bits and pieces, Macadamia – more so than Pecan. So as I write this post, I do so not out of personal experience in talking to children about sexuality per se, but out of my thoughts of how we might go about dealing with this, when the time arises. Both of them ask a lot of questions – some direct and some not so. Depending on the amount of information they already have, we craft and sculpt our answers – but the one thing we do not do is slam the door shut on their faces saying “this is out of bounds”. We also do not give them the cock and bull one-liner “You’ll know when you grow up”. As a parent, it is a part of your responsibility to educate your child about sexuality.
“Encourage your child to talk about what’s on their minds. Encourage them to ask questions.”
Both Macadamia and Pecan read a lot. Macadamia has also had some sex education classes at school (apart from the snippets of information that Macadamia and me keep sharing from time to time) about puberty and the like. The other day, some talk of babies came up and Macadamia was heard telling Pecan that “it takes a egg thingy and a sperm thingy” to make a baby. Sure enough – it does take a convention between an egg and a sperm to make a baby. What the Missy and the Master have not thought of, yet, is how exactly this “convention” takes place.
When talk of this “convention” does take place, we’re mentally prepared for a multitude of “EEEEWWWWWWWWWWWWWW”s and “That’s totally SO gross” and “Ewww – That’s so d.i.s.g.u.s.t.i.n.g”. I guess it is completely normal for them to exhibit that initial reaction :-). Think about it – how would we have reacted in our teens had our parents told us about the said “convention between an egg and a sperm and how it happens”. Could we have imagined our parents doing that ? I guess not :-). So then, to expect our kids to take and digest such information with a straight face is, I guess, asking for a bit too much. Macadamia, for sure, is not going to say “Oh ! That’s so nice. Sounds lovely.” Far from it !
Parents – rest assured – the final salvo is yours. Questions like “Ewww. You and Daddy did T.H.A.T ?” simply need a simple answer and a smile. “If mommies and daddies did not “do t.h.a.t”, you children would not be here !!!”
“Do not shy away from talking about sexuality. For that matter, even when it comes to questions that kids have about their own bodies, questions regarding the difference between the male and female anatomy – it is best to be honest with them.”
Age appropriateness in doling out information is important. So far, if questions about babies have emerged from the siblings early on in life, we’ve kept our answers simple. Now that they know a lot more about the human body, as and when questions arise, the answers are more detailed and so it will be, in the future too.
“Age is important when it comes to giving them information. Give them advice/information depending on how much they already know. Also, when talking to kids, use language/words that are understandable and comfortable”
Yet again, we do not “set a time” to sit and talk about the human body and babies. Curious as children are, questions do pop up out of the blue and when they do pop up, I personally feel that it is important to give them as straight forward and age appropriate an answer as possible, right then. Shrouding the whole issue in a veil of mystery and secrecy just drives them towards other sources for their answers. Trust me, it is much better that they get the basic information from their parents than from the multitude of other sources available in today’s world.
“Look out for cues from children when they seek information. There are also “teachable moments” that one can use to start and talk to children about sexuality. e.g someone in the family is expecting a baby. It would be a good way to start a conversation regarding babies and how they happen. Or with younger children – bath time or dressing time is a good time to talk to them about their bodies and about “safe and unsafe” touch.”
Our parents’ attitude, presumably, was “why do children need to know about sexuality” ?
Children DO need to know about sexuality because, for the most part, it helps reassure them that such feelings are normal. It helps them cope with peer pressure – trust me – no child in their preteens or teens wants to stick out like a sore thumb amongst their group of friends. It makes them more comfortable with the way their own bodies are developing and changing. Most importantly, it helps them to recognise “a good touch” from “a bad touch” or a “safe touch” from an “unsafe touch”.
Like I said before, age appropriateness in dispersing information is important. All the same, it starts at a very young age. Something as simple as teaching them the names of their body parts – defines and sets the base for openness in seeking for and giving information later in life. e.g if we were to tell children very early on in life that the private parts of their body is “chee chee” and use terms like “don’t touch there” or “that’s a bad thing in your body” – they’re going to grow up with mixed feelings, feelings of confusion, embarrassment.
As their bodies grow and develop, pre teens and teens spend a lot of time looking at themselves and wondering if it is only their bodies which are growing in such a manner or whether it is common and normal. Talking openly about the human body and the way it develops goes a long way in putting their fears to rest. It is, at this stage, important to tell them that not all bodies develop at the same rate and in exactly the same way. There are bound to be differences and that “being different is quite normal”.
“Talk to pre-teens and teens about the changes that are taking place in their bodies. It serves to reassure them that they are not the only ones going through these changes. It is better that they get this information from you rather than from other sources.”
Within the household too, it is important to place high value on the connection between “affection and touch”. A warm hug goes a long way in conveying affection, warmth, love and caring. It probably says much more than many a word strung together. All four of us, at home, place a lot of value in expressing our warmth and affection for each other in terms of “touch”. Be it a smile, be it laughing together, be it a warm hug, be it holding hands, be it just an arm casually thrown around the shoulder, be it an arm around the waist, be it a casual ruffle of the head, be it a gentle tweak of the ear, be it a tickle when it is least expected – brings about a sense of closeness, a feeling of openness and most importantly the fact that we, as a family, value this sense of openness, understanding, familiarity and intimacy between the four of us. The message that it carries is a very simple, yet very potent and important one – “good touch is a means of conveying your affection”. When children know the feel of a “good touch” it becomes that much easier for them to instinctively know the difference between “a safe touch” and “an unsafe touch”.
As parents, it is important to tell our children what we believe in and why we do so. It is important to share our values with them. That said, if it is our opinion that we are conveying to our children, then it is always better to tell them that what you’re saying is your opinion and not a given fact.
“Be open in sharing your values and concerns.”
Last but not the least, it is very important to let children know that they can come to their parents with any concerns, questions or problems, no matter how little or how large the said issue may be.
With the siblings too, we have a lot many more bridges to cross. I guess when it comes to openly talking to them, there may distinctly be moments of “being uncomfortable”. Knowing us, we’d probably tell them right at the very outset that we might be uncomfortable at some points and that they may be too – but then that’s perfectly normal and is totally OK.
“Keep your sense of humour going, keep it light and don’t be hesitant to express or talk about your own discomfort, if needed. It is perfectly OK to say “I may be a bit uncomfortable talking about this and so may you, but that’s perfectly fine.”
Once children reach puberty, it is not just the “good touch/bad touch” scenario that children need to watch out for. It is important for parents to talk to their children about the responsibilities and the consequences of being sexually active. Pregnancy, STDs, feelings about sex – are also important issues that need to be addressed. Helping children understand that these are important decisions that require maturity and responsible thought will increase the chances that their decisions, when they do happen, are level headed and responsible, and not just the result of strong peer pressure.
Parenting, raising a child is probably one of the most rewarding, the most gratifying things and without any doubt, one of the toughest. There is no single formula that fits one and all. The factors are different, the variables are different. What matters at the end of it all, is arriving at a balanced equation.
Like Bill Cosby once said
“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising available in bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything. You just need a lot of love and luck – and of course, courage.”