Marcia, who is now in fourth grade, has a crush on a kid in her class! And so it begins…
If you are a parent, I’m sure you get more than a little nervous thinking about your children growing up and starting to date and falling in love. If you are like me, you probably also get nervous thinking about these kids one day having sex. I know this is inevitable. I cannot stop my children from doing or experiencing anything. And, really, neither can you. What you and I CAN do is inform ourselves; educate ourselves so we don’t deprive our children of information they need to make critical decisions of their own.
There are plenty of varying attitudes on this topic. Plenty of people, some dads I know too, voice the “Not on MY watch” mindset. Others share a “Be good. If you can’t be good, be careful. If you can’t be careful, don’t name it after me.” philosophy. Yet most people, upon deeper discussion, recognize both of these attitudes are not helpful to their child. Children need to hear real information: aka The Truth. I also think it is critical to share your own values around dating, sex, and love. For example, Let’s say you are the mother of a daughter and you think girls should not call boys. This could be a source for future conflict if you take a hard line. Perhaps she needs to call a boy classmate to get clarity on a class assignment. How will you react? Would that be okay? Will it cause a fight? Perhaps you could agree that this would be ok but that you would prefer to leave it up to the boy to ask her out. Make sure you tell her that some people might do things differently but this is what you value. The other approach doesn’t make it wrong, just different.
Most parents, not surprisingly, wish to protect their children from the potential pain, shame, hurt, embarrassment, etc, etc of dating and love. We all know the depiction of an overprotective father holding a shotgun, threatening any date who dares to try the sexual things he himself did when he was younger. Let’s think about this model: Is this the right message? How will our daughters perceive it? Will our daughters be humiliated with embarrassment? Angered by the lack of trust? Would it send fear into the boy so he keeps his hands to himself or would it inspire the daughter to be rebellious? Perhaps we experienced these things as young people — think back to when you and your peers were young: Chances are you or some of your classmates were already doing sexual things at a young age; would you would freak out if your kids were doing those same things? Have you started hyperventilating yet? 😉
As an educator, I want to make sure I give my kids information about sexually transmitted Infections (STIs) and pregnancy prevention but I also want to be Sex Positive. Let me back up and offer a definition. For those of you who do not know what Sex Positive is, it’s “an attitude towards human sexuality that regards all consensual sexual activities as fundamentally healthy and pleasurable, and encourages sexual pleasure and experimentation”. The first part of this is what I wish to address now. The second part is what we will address later – over time naturally as they get older and as the topic comes up and as the teens age. There is already enough out there that is sex-negative and scary. I don’t want sex to be scary to my children because I know it can be enjoyable. Most sex education programs teach simply reproductive biology, and STI/Pregnancy prevention. I also want to make sure my kids learn stuff related to sex and sexuality that is NOT taught in a traditional Abstinence Only Before Marriage Sex Education program. If these are not taught in schools, then where do our kids learn these important things?
In Europe, they tie sex to love and statistics show it is a WHOLE lot more effective than the abstinence only before marriage sex education programs here in America. Recently Slate.com, published a slide show with some interesting data:
The first time they had sex, 64 percent of Dutch teens used birth control, compared with only 26 percent of American teens. Most of the time, the Dutch teens used pills. Think about it for a minute: The majority of Dutch teens are making an appointment, going to a clinic, getting a prescription filled and starting birth control before they have sex. Meanwhile, in the United States, the average time between first having sex and first making a family-planning visit is almost two years. Here, 70 percent of school-based health clinics are forbidden from providing condoms or other birth control, even as 80 percent of them are busy diagnosing STDs and pregnancy.
In addition, almost half of the Dutch kids used both condoms for STD protection and the pill or another like method for birth control. This even has a nickname: “Double Dutch!” Only 17 percent of American kids protected themselves this way.
As a parent, I want to tie sex and pleasure together. I’ve recently blogged about sex and love and how that is a bit of a set up for girls to “give it up” when they think they are in love or that their partner is in love with them. Either way, there has to be talk about pleasure and love. If you keep it clinical and don’t acknowledge the nuances, you are missing an incredible opportunity to connect with your child. They need to know your honest experiences so they can understand where you are coming from. And so they can avoid your mistakes as well. It’s a way of imparting knowledge, which, combined with their own experiences, will help them gain wisdom.
I’ve also blogged about dating as a single mother. I am hoping my experiences are helping my daughters develop healthy views on dating and love. I am hoping to model positive behavior to them, including learning from when and if I stumble. If that happens and I can make it age-appropriate, I will sit down with them to go through a post-mortem of sorts. I’ve been doing this and as a result of this open dialogue, we are strengthening the protective feelings for one another. Once not too long ago, Marcia said to me, “Mom, if he doesn’t see that you are a good person, then he doesn’t deserve to be with you.” Aaaaand she’s 9 years old. I was absolutely blown away by that statement and have tried to encourage her to remember that for when she gets older. I think we all have a unique perspective to offer to our children. For those of you who are married (or in a steady, committed relationship) you have a wonderful opportunity to model loving, affectionate, caring, communicative relationships. I believe very strongly that children learn what they live. Let’s help them live in happiness and love.
We are all trying to protect our children; That is our job as parents. Your approach may be entirely different and that’s ok. But ultimately this is about communication and providing our children with as much truthful information about dating, love, and sex as possible. For you parents of older kids, would you be willing to share any successes and failures you and your kids experienced?
copyright 2011 The MamaSutra