Noelle Kirchner, M.Div., is a Presbyterian minister and mother of two boys. As they wrestle on the floor, she enjoys wrestling with her manuscripts. She writes for Huff Post Parents, the TODAY Show Parenting Team, and has been a repeat guest author at in(courage). You can find her on her blog, where she writes about faith and parenting, and on Twitter and Facebook.
Let’s be honest. We live in a world in which sex is used to sell – you name it.
The issue of sex concerns me as a parent, and I know I’m not alone. The world is so intensely sexualized. And instead of sex being portrayed as the beautiful, biblical gift that it is, it's used as a marketing tool and means of exploitation. Further, children are encouraged to experiment with it earlier and earlier.
I recently heard youth culture and sexuality expert Jason Soucinek give a lecture to empower wary parents. Although this topic is a bit down the road for me with young children, I am always up for information gathering on important issues. And I'm excited to share this information with you - whether you are in the information gathering phase too, or if you have teenagers and need some workable advice now.
Sadly, the internet is currently children's number one information source on sex. As parents, we know that we need to appropriately restrict their access to inappropriate material. One source said that the average age of introduction to pornography is now only four years old due to the nature of public advertisements and computer pop ups. But censoring is only part of the solution. We have to be willing to talk about sex too.
Why talking is important
The number one thing that Jason advocated is that parents be willing to talk to their children about sex. Statistic after statistic proves that parents are simply the most influential in shaping their children's views. This is true even if you think it isn't. Even if you think your children aren't listening, even if it appears they are blowing you off - they're still influenced. The key is to be willing to meet them where they are, really listen to their perspective, and be willing to "go there" in communicating our own.
What do I mean by being willing to "go there?" Jason talked about how a parent's elliptical treatment of sex is often passed down. If our parents didn't really address the issue with us, then we're likely to do the same with our children. He was adamant that sex education is not the primary responsibility of schools or the church; these institutions should build upon a framework that parents have already established. A direct line of communication between children and parents is essential.
It is this direct line of communication that can save our children from unnecessary pain and provide them with valuable instruction. It also encourages children to go to us first with questions. Because the issue is so relevant and pertinent to our children’s formation, we should guard our role and create a safe and protective space for our children as their primary resource.
Framing the issue
Jason provided a helpful metaphor to breach the issue of sex with our children. Sex is like an iceberg, he said. Did you know that only 10% of an iceberg is above the water? Yes, 90% of an iceberg is actually hidden underwater, and that’s what sunk the Titanic.
Like an iceberg, when people approach the issue of sex, they often think of the visible 10%, which is the physical act. But sex is much more beneath the surface. It also has social, communal, emotional, and spiritual components. To neglect that would be to put ourselves at risk.
In an age when puberty is happening earlier and marriage is happening later, children must wrestle with the issue of sexual restraint more than any preceding generation. Educating our children about the gravity of the act with its various components helps to balance out the pervasively superficial cultural view. It’s also an entry point for a biblical discussion about sex - one in which sex is certainly celebrated, but framed as well.
7 Talking Tips
Jason had seven important tips for parents who are ready to talk with their children:
1. Remember that talking about sex is more of a process than a confrontation. This can remove tension on both sides and invite meaningful dialogue.
2. Statistically speaking, we need to communicate important messages over 7 times. Just having one good talk about sex isn't enough to ingrain the message.
3. In order for the message to really hit home, a teenager needs to hear the same message from 5 different adults. This is when cultivating relationships with other families who have similar values can be helpful.
4. We can't parent out of our own pain or our own shame. Sexuality can be a constructive or destructive force. If we have experienced pain, we need to be able to separate our experience from that of our child's - but that doesn't mean neglecting to appropriately share our wisdom.
5. Don't shelter yourself. Parents need to educate themselves. Have your children play their music for you, listen to conversations when driving carpool, and read school newspapers – do “field research” so that you can give poignant advice.
6. No age is too young to start answering questions. Gear your responses to your child's age, and if they are on the younger side, invite them to tell you when they have heard enough to satisfy their curiosity without feeling uncomfortable.
7. Be sure to use the proper names for body parts in your discussions too; this simplifies the communication line and allows any adult to understand your child should there ever be a concern. (This is an important step in combating child abuse.)
On an issue this prominent in our culture, it’s a sad fact that the church has often been a lacking voice in the conversation. As influential as the church might be, however, Jason’s research shows that parents are more successful in transmitting values. So instead of pointing fingers, we as parents need to accept our own responsibility on the front lines. It’s an important first step.
Are you interested in learning more about navigating hot parenting topics from the Christian perspective? I invite you to become an email subscriber to my blog and receive a free printable today! In the past, I have covered topics like worldly success and eating disorders.