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Go ahead: Talk about sex with your kids | Sex in the Suburbs
I recently received one of my two most favorite pieces of feedback from fourth and fifth graders.
I was leading a For Girls Only class nearby, and on the evaluation one girl wrote, “When I came into this class, I thought all of this stuff was disgusting, but you helped me realize that it’s beautiful and an amazing thing.”
I thought, “Don’t we all want that for our children? That they can view puberty and becoming an adult capable of sexual intimacy as a beautiful, special, amazing thing?”
My friend and colleague, Greg Smallidge, who teaches the For Boys Only classes with Great Conversations here in Federal Way and elsewhere, was recently featured in a Seattle Magazine article entitled, “This Guy Will Show You How To Talk to Your Young Son about Sex.” Accurately pegging Smallidge as someone who “combines trustworthiness with an ability to remain unflappable,” the article talks about the work of Great Conversations and how good Smallidge is at putting parents and kids at ease.
Quoting Smallidge, the article states, “Parents are often isolated when it comes to talking to their kids about sexuality. All parents are sexuality educators; we’re just not very good at it, because we don’t really want to be. Getting motivated, seeing the light, is easier with a little help.” (www.seattlemag.com)
Which brings me to my other favorite piece of feedback. Last year, a 9-year-old boy came up to me after a class in a school and said, “Amy, I just want to thank you for teaching us this stuff. I mean, you just answer our questions straight up. I’ve asked at home before, but all they say is, ‘it just happens.’ So thank you.”
Contrary to what some of you may think, I wasn’t born able to easily talk and answer questions about sexuality in age-appropriate ways with children and teens. In fact, I used to be pretty shy and reserved. But this topic and how it’s talked about is so important, so life-affirming, and so life-saving, that I learned. And you can, too.
You don’t have to become a full-time sexuality educator. But if you’re a parent, you already are at least a part-time sexuality educator, whether you want to be or not.
What you say and don’t say to your kids - about that song on the radio with the disparaging lyrics, the reason you won’t buy that dress/shirt/swimsuit, the joke that puts down someone’s sexual orientation, or the video they saw on YouTube — speaks volumes.
If you aren’t talking about these things, then you are giving a message that these aren’t things we talk about. And you’re missing a priceless opportunity to teach your values about all the messages they see and hear every day. Ask them what they think. Gently lay out your values. Stay calm.
If you are so overly anxious about it all that you only discuss sexual abuse or safety issues, you have the potential to create fearful people when it comes to sexuality, which may seem like an OK idea now, but not so much when they are adults in grown-up relationships.
Remember that there are good and beautiful and amazing things about growing up and changing bodies and changing relationships. Even if your memories of growing up aren’t all positive, find some that were good and share those.
Go ahead, open that door, just a little bit, and let in some light. If you need help getting motivated, give me a call.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer, educator and coach in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the books, “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations” and “Homegrown Faith and Justice.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online. She specializes in working with parents and in sexuality education. Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.