Our kids need to hear about sexuality from us

I couldn’t help but overhear the woman talking loudly in the restaurant about panties. I was out to dinner with my family when I heard a woman say, “Pops, we have big news! We’re wearing panties!!”

I leaned to look around the corner, hoping her use of the “royal we” involved a young child. Sure enough, a sweet little girl was beaming up at a man who I assume was her grandfather. This was not Pops’ first potty-training rodeo and he knew to show great enthusiasm. He said to the little girl, “Right now? Are you wearing panties right now?”

Y’all. This is what young children do to us. They make us say crazy intimate things in public. We lose all perspective and make announcements about panties in crowded restaurants.

From pregnancy to labor and delivery and well into breastfeeding, our bodies are so central to our parenting. We take wonderful care of our children’s bodies in order to help them grow and thrive. Then, when we start potty-training our kids, it’s even more body stuff. 

Parenting requires so much attention and talk about bodies. Parents’ and little kids’ bodies are all mixed in together. That is, until they aren’t anymore.

The “royal we” disappears as kids get older. We would never say that “we” got into college or that “we” got asked to Homecoming. We recognize that our kids are separate human beings from us. 

I have, however, noticed that there is one place where this gets murky for parents. We aren’t so good at relinquishing our control over our kids when it comes to their sexuality. I know this whole topic is uncomfortable and I don’t love talking about it any more than my kids do, but part of their transitioning into young adulthood is their becoming the boss of their own bodies.

I was a youth director and a campus minister before I became a mom. Those experiences gave me a lot of opportunities to talk with teens and young adults about sexuality.

 Instead of emphasizing a culture of purity, I made the conscious decision as a mom to focus instead on respect as the core value regarding sexuality. I know that many Christian parents and church leaders disagree with me and I’m willing to acknowledge that I could be wrong. My instincts, though, tell me that it’s better to talk to our kids honestly about the ways in which they are using their bodies than to pretend that their bodies and feelings aren’t changing. 

The bottom line is that I want my kids to show respect for themselves and others. There are two main ways I talk about this that I think are realistic and practical: 

The first is to remind them that they don’t owe their bodies to anyone. No matter how many dates they’ve been on or what has been discussed, they alone decide how they want to express themselves physically.

The other thing I say to them is that their physical connection with another person shouldn’t be way out ahead of their emotional connection. When physical intimacy isn’t tied to emotional intimacy, people’s hearts can get really broken. 

It makes my stomach hurt to write about this and I’m sure my kids will be mortified that I’m discussing sexuality in my blog. These conversations are hard and embarrassing; they are also incredibly important. Our kids are so inundated with messages from the media and their peers; we can’t afford to be silent about something as crucial as sexuality. Our kids need to hear from us about how to make this transition to owning and being responsible for their bodies. They probably won’t come to us for advice, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it. 

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