Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Are You Raising A Pervert?

sex education cartoon Pictures, Images and PhotosAll this talk about sex, lies and videotapes hogging the news on a daily basis was enough to get parents like myself paranoid about the values or attitudes we teach our children regarding healthy sexuality.

But how do you protect one's child from being victimized by perverts?

Although there is no fool-proof way I guess it all begins with education, at the right time and the right place, and discussing these issues in the context of love, marriage and a healthy respect for one’s body and the opposite sex.

Discussions such as these best take place in the tween years, before a son or daughter enters the age of puberty, when suddenly all these raging hormones can send them into a tailspin. I remember reading a book during those highly confusing early teen-age years, entitled, “Why I Am I So Miserable If These Are The Best Years of My Life?” written by Andrea Boroff Eagan. Teen-age angst to the max if you judge a book by it’s cover, but it was the classic on puberty in the 1980s and a survival handbook of sorts for young girls like me back then.

Today, there are countless books and websites available to help parents discuss puberty and sexuality issues and topics with their children and adolescents. I did a quick survey over the week-end among parents and a group of 17 and 18 year old young men and women and I was surprised about what I found. Here are some of the more important points that I discovered…

Many mothers (and fathers) from upper and upper-middle class families remain ill-equipped or feel awkward about discussing the issues of puberty with their children. Median age, if and when the subject was discussed was around 11 or 12 years of age, at the onset of menstruation. Some progressive mothers and fathers would often take the lead in discussing topics such as boy-girl relationships, physical and emotional changes, in a casual manner which the children seemed to appreciate very much.

Most of the young people I surveyed (7 out of 10) preferred to hear the discussion regarding “sex and all that” from their parents but suggested that in order for the talks to go smoothly, “The parents must have a close relationship to the child prior to talking about these topics otherwise it will be very awkward.” The young men and women also would have preferred that the parents be open to their questions and not be judgmental in the “I know better, so listen to me, type of way.” It was also important for them that the topic be discussed in private away from the ears of younger siblings.

Current situations, such as a pet dog or cat giving birth, meeting a single mother or father, watching a movie together where relationship issues are being tackled, or even the latest news about the Kho-Belo-Halili scandal can provide teachable moments. In the car the other night, while my husband, 18-year daughter and I were discussing the possibility of stripping Haydn Kho of his medical license because of the un-gentlemanly and dastardly deed he had done, our 10-year old cut into the conversation and asked worriedly, “Are you supposed to be discussing this in front of me?!” We all laughed and told him that yes, he was old enough to hear what we had to say about the issues. Of course the gory details were left out for his 10-year old ears.

4. Conversations regarding puberty and sex are best supplemented by books -- “The Care and Keeping of You - The Body Book for Girls” and “The Feelings Book - the care and keeping of your emotions” published by the American Girl library are excellent resources. “The Pink Locker Society” --http://pinklockersociety.org/ is a new novel and website for tween girls that provides sought-after puberty information within a fictional storyline and plot. Pink Locker is part of the excellent children’s website www.kidshealth.org was recently launched to help young girls understand their bodies and emotions better. The same website has a wealth of information, written both for children and parents on many health topics and issues. For young boys, one of the best books available is “Where Did I Come From?” by Peter Mayle (yes, the famous Peter Mayle) and it is a book that can be read even at the age of nine, or way before any kind of malice (as many little boys are won’t to develop often because of peer pressure) sets in. Mayle has a gift for translating adult experiences into child-level concepts that really make the book a good read. You must be open-minded though and ready to answer your son or daughter’s questions on some of the topics he discusses in the book.

5. Sharing stories about one’s own puberty is better appreciated by girls rather than boys. The girls I surveyed said that as long as their mothers were comfortable and not giddy or queasy, they loved hearing stories of how they were at that age. The boys said they would find hearing those stories from their parents “weird”. Some boys said that maybe a general story would be okay but felt that they would not want the gory details because they might feel embarrassed for their parents.

Many parents are unfortunately still of the mind-set that “if you don’t talk about it, it won’t happen.” Look at your own attitudes regarding sexuality and be careful about what you say and do, because these send signals to your children. Role-modeling and limit setting is just as important when discussing issues such as puberty, sex, love and marriage. Your family’s standards and values system must be made clear to the child, concrete enough for him or her to feel and know it even if he or she is far away from you. The values of respecting one’s body, the avoidance of risk-taking behaviors need to be firmly set in his or her psyche so that in the middle of the cacophony of the temptations -- of power, fame, wealth, sex, drugs and what have you later on, it is something that he or she can grab on to as they stand their ground against a crazy world.