As the mother of four kids, I recognize the fear and hesitation that exists when talking to your kids about sex. But here’s the truth: one way or another, your kids WILL learn about sex. The question to ask yourself is, “From where, or what, do you want them to learn?”
My twin boys are 14 years old. I know...scary, right?
If it’s not the media or friends saturating them with sexuality, then it’s their own brain! Whether we like it or not, our kids are sexual beings.
Instead of asking other parents if they’ve had the “talk” with their kids, we should focus on the environment we create for our kids––an environment where they can talk about anything, at anytime, without fear.
When our kids come to us with a question and we respond with a gasp, scold, or change the subject, they learn that their parents are not safe. They will look somewhere else for answers. While we can all agree that it can be awkward in the beginning, the more you have these conversations—embracing the topic of sex and healthy sexuality—the easier it becomes.
Being open and gracious will reinforce that you are a safe person to talk with about sex.
When I understand the benefit of doing something, it makes it easier for me to do, even when it’s difficult. When my kids ask me a question, there have been times when it made me blush. As much as I would like to say, “We can talk about it later,” I know that if I don’t give them an answer, they will just ask their friends or search for answers on the Internet; and we ALL know that would lead to further discussions that would make me blush.
My husband and I have been successful with a few strategies that help keep the revolving door of conversation open.
When talking with our kids, we incorporate as much of our story as possible. For example, when my son shared about a girl at his school, who acts flirty and desperate, I was able to share about how I acted when I was his age. I told him that I remember acting flirty because I was so desperate to feel loved.
If you haven’t conquered your own shame or the negative sexual experiences of your past, it will be challenging to be open with your kids. I had to dig out all my past junk and work out my own healing before feeling confident enough to share it with them. I had to BELIEVE that Christ has redeemed me and loves me unconditionally. Only then could I model sexual health for my kids.
The more I can normalize what’s going on in their world, the more I can show them that I understand because I’ve been there.
Ask your kids what they hear and see at school. Briefly share some of the stories from when you were in school. If they begin sharing with you, just listen. This is NOT the time to lecture. Listen. When you create a safe environment, they will want connection. They will seek you out—offer information and share with you about their life—especially at 10 o’clock at night.
Teens LOVE to talk late at night. So, get your coffee and be a listening ear when they want to talk.
When you build relationship with your kids, this is what happens: my son came to me with questions about a girl in his class who thought she was pregnant. In the moment, I knew I needed to ask my son several questions—questions that would allow me to gain insight into HIS thinking. “Why do you think she feels like she needs to be with all of those boys? I remember longing for attention and being willing to do anything to feel wanted. I felt so lonely as a young girl. I wonder if she feels that way too? I hope she knows how much Jesus loves her no matter what she does.”
I told my son that I felt sorry for what the girl was going through. I encouraged him to make sure he was treating her with kindness and to avoid gossiping about her. I’m always surprised by his insight and perspective, especially as to the reasons behind destructive behavior. However, I wouldn’t know that if I dominated the conversation with my parental wisdom.
Once the conversation is going, I can remind him that sex is one of God’s gifts to us, but that it can bring so much heartache outside of the context of marriage. Sex can even bring heartache IN a marriage if it is hijacked by selfishness.
Responding out of fear and shortening his leash because of his age or what’s happening in his world, would only shut down communication. If we want our kids to learn how to be in relationship and have open, honest communication, we have to be willing to be vulnerable. We have to be safe for our kids. This way, they learn that they can share anything and everything with us—the good and the bad.
If you are not up to speed on the brain and body happenings of a boy, or girl, this may require a little research. This is important: explain what’s going on with their body so they don’t assume there is something wrong when they experience change.
I certainly needed to read several books on the teenage brain in order to explain what was happening with my Hulk-ish son. I learned that his heightened aggression could be due to the massive increase of testosterone in his brain. When I was able to talk to him about the biology of his body, it helped him understand why he had been so short-fused lately. He didn’t want to suffer the consequences for the way he was treating those around him. Once he understood that his hormones were in high-gear, he gave himself and everyone else a little grace and things quieted down.
Knowledge is power.
With having two teenage boys, my husband has been a great resource for them. He has first-hand experience with the brain and body changes that boys experience. At first, as weird as our kids might think it is, my husband’s honest vulnerability always opens the door for the boys to share what changes they’re going through. In normalizes their sexuality. It gives them the opportunity to ask personal questions and get honest answers.
Sometimes the conversation gets too honest. There are disgusting, 14–year–old–boy–things that you just can’t unhear, even if you wanted to, and I’m sorry about that. It’s par for the course.
But, building relationship through open conversation and answering questions in a straight way is a great strategy to use. It minimizes the shame and discomfort your kids might feel when opening up about their sexuality. This is extremely important, not just for teens, but for younger kids too.
My six year old son once asked, “Why is my penis so big every time I wake up?” I simply responded that it’s probably because he needs to go to the bathroom and that’s why it goes back down after he’s done. I also told him that God made him that way and everything is working just the way it should. End of story, he was off to use the bathroom.
We all have vulnerabilities. When we recognize our vulnerabilities, it’s easier to accept the need for healthy boundaries. It is important for my kids to know that establishing healthy boundaries is not an issue of trust—whether we trust them or not. It’s about protecting their brain from exposure to something that could potentially cause them harm.
For example: when on the Internet, if they stumble across something that is intriguing, sparks their curiosity, or even makes them feels good, and they linger on the site for a while, this doesn’t make them a bad person. They need to understand, they have a choice to make: they can quickly leave the site before the behavior becomes something they can’t control.
I tell my kids, it’s my job to provide a supplemental brain for them while their brain is still developing. Their brain won’t fully develop until their mid-twenties, so in the meantime, my brain will help them process their behaviors. I would like them to learn to manage their behaviors and temptations—through establishing healthy boundaries—by the time they leave my home. Is this too much to ask?
It is important for my husband and me to be honest about our temptations and weaknesses, and to model healthy boundaries. Our kids need to know that having healthy boundaries is not just an issue for kids. Establishing healthy boundaries, having safeguards in place, is an issue for all of us. I often remind my kids, healthy people are not perfect people. Healthy people are aware of their weaknesses and have a plan to maintain health, even if they mess up.
Kids need to know that there is no such thing as a perfect person. Jesus was the only one. Real living is what my kids need to see, not a Pinterest-perfect Christian highlight reel.
Kids can smell fake from a mile away. If I have areas in my life that I haven’t dealt with, or are spinning out of control, they will know. They might not know the source or struggle exactly, but they will know that something is off.
Working through my past trauma and addictive behaviors was the best parenting choice I’ve ever made. I often tell people, “My recovery work continues to be the best parenting and marriage resource I have.”
When I maintain an open and honest relationship with my kids, it allows me to help them understand what’s going on throughout their development.
Here are four continuous conversations that I have with my kids:
In order to speak into these four areas, I need to make sure that I’m constantly educating and growing myself. Growing in my relationship with God and reading books about what my kids are going through are key for me. I need to make sure that my soul, body, and brain are healthy, so I can pass these things on to my kids.
As a parent, your next step may be to figure out how you can get healthy and change your family tree. The best thing you can do to teach your kids about emotional, sexual, and physical health is to model it yourself, then teach it organically. It’s worth it!
Lifelong change starts with us.
Ashley is the International Women's Groups Coordinator for Pure Desire. She oversees all Women Regional Groups Leaders (RGL'S) and is a member of the Pure Desire Speaking Team.