Navigating a Critical Conversation
by Hayne Steen, MAMFT
Recently several of our closest friends have initiated some very important conversations about sex with their pre-adolescent and adolescent children. Some of the stories are absolutely hilarious in their pure innocence and sheer honesty. One mother found her son’s journal wide open on his bed with a cartoon the son had drawn depicting he and his father having the first of what I suspect will be an ongoing conversations about sex. Two stick figures standing face to face with their own thought bubbles. The larger stick figure (aka the dad) is depicted saying, “SEX, SEX, SEX, SEX,” in his speech bubble. The smaller stick figure (aka that son) is then depicted with his own thought bubble of unspoken thoughts screaming, “Dear God, make it stop!”
There is a certain hesitancy among parents to have this increasingly important unfolding conversation about sexuality. One of the questions I hear so many men ask one another is, “So, when did you and your dad have “The Talk.” Many men seem to increasingly admit that “The Talk” came way too late. They report having already been exposed to sex through their own poorly informed network of friends in the neighborhood or at school.
Some men even report never having had “The Talk” with their dads and as a result were left to fend for themselves in that area like sexual orphans. They just roamed off through this forrest alone with misinformation and no real sense of understanding about this gift we have been given. I suspect that if people were given the open space to be honest, they might express the shame of navigating that time of their life all alone not feeling like they could really sit down and have a shame free conversation about sex, pornography, attraction, curiosity, desire or regret.
There is no denying it. We are sexual creatures made for relational connection and intimacy within the context of a loving marriage in which we are able to pursue and experience a oneness that simply can not be replicated outside of that context. This truth is widely omitted and never naturally emerges for our children in the manner that the culture teaches our children about it. Never more than now should we be creatively engaging our children around these important conversations.
This morning after church a friend approached me to ask about my awareness of any helpful resources for parents that specifically address talking to your sons about sex. He verbalized his concern over a shift that has occurred in youth culture catching many parents off guard where so many of the girls are initiating a sexual dialogue with boys. As the parent myself of an eleven year old girl, a ten year old son and an eight year old daughter I am so grateful for his honest and direct question because it’s one that is definitely on my mind, as I am certain it is for many other parents of pre-adolescent and adolescent children.
Here is a link that I sent him that directly addresses his specific question.
So, I thought I would take a couple minutes to share some of the resources I have been gathering. But first here are a couple of guidelines as we begin to have these conversations with our kids. For the last 20 years I have had a first row seat in “How Not to Talk to Your Kids About Sex.” The following will hopefully guide us with
1. Acknowledge the awkwardness.
There is just no way to avoid the fact that you will be entering into a conversation that has the potential to feel very one sided and awkward. Make room for that in the way you approach it. Even say it out loud to them and honor those feelings. That can be very disarming.
2. Begin by asking thoughtful open ended questions.
There is nothing better than a really great well timed question. There are lots of resources around that can help, but this text should really help you have an age appropriate conversation.
3. Choose a location where you will not be interrupted.
Going for a walk together or a long drive in the car can be a great way to begin as it creates space to be together without the pressure of maintaining eye contact. It puts you in a posture of walking with them side by side. This can take a lot of the pressure off getting the conversation started.
4. Dialogue is the goal but do not force it.
The best learning takes place in a shame free environment. Prepare yourself to create space like this for your own child as you engage them in a dialogue around sexuality. Focus on the Family has some great things to offer in this blog focused on “Talking About Sex and Puberty.”
5. Engage the topic creatively and often.
You may be even wondering when to initiate the conversation. Here is some helpas you navigate that dynamic in your own family.
6. Free yourself up from the pressure of a perfect performance.
As you prepare for this with your own children, consider taking some time to navigate your own sexual story. Focus on the Family offers some wonderful wisdom for us in this blog as those seeking to help our children navigate sexuality in a healthy manner.
7. Give your child the freedom to ask very specific questions.
I love what Mayo Clinic says about this. Kids need to know that we are not simply lecturing them but authentically inviting them into a conversation where they have permission to ask any question without worry of being laughed at or critiqued for the simplicity of their questioning and clarifying.
Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423.517.7070 if you would like set up a time to process any aspect of this blog entry. Feel free to check out our counseling practice online as well at Elbow Tree Christian Counseling.
BOOKS RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TALKING WITH CHILDREN:
Talking to Your Kids About Sex: How to Have a Lifetime of Age Appropriate Conversations With Your Children About Healthy Sexuality by Mark Laaser
Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality by Jim Burns
Aggressive Girls, Clueless Boys by Dennis Rainey
God’s Design for Sex by Stan and Brenna Jones
RESOURCES FOR PROCESSING YOUR OWN ADULT SEXUAL STORY:
Building Intimate Marriages with Mike Systma
A Celebration of Sex by Doug Rosenau
Surfing for God by Michael Cusick
To Be Told by Dan Allender