What do you say to your children and teens about sexist remarks, harassment, stalking, date rape and assault?
Parents know their kids hear distorted versions of current events and inaccurate sex information from friends and media. But parents may hesitate to discuss these topics with their kids for fear of somehow “getting it wrong”.
Since talking about sex with kids almost always raises anxiety, parents are likely to avoid it altogether.
One way or another, your kids will need to navigate this complicated subject. They need to develop awareness, skills and wisdom about it. Talking about it with them helps. Here are seven tips and things to consider when tackling these tricky subjects.
Young kids who experience parents as confident interpreters of news will be less confused than those who shut talk down with, “You are too young to know about that.”
Better to say something like:
“Adults get hurt by each other just like kids do. It’s important to make sure all people’s rights and bodies are protected.”
Older teens benefit from a fuller analysis with you and others so that they can be prepared for independent travel in the world that presents all manner of possibilities for offenses and victimization.
Anxious kids may either ask a lot of questions, because they see danger everywhere, or avoid your efforts to educate them because sexual offenses are upsetting. You’ll want to put #MeToo issues in perspective to make them less frightening. Education and competence will help them feel secure and confident.
For older kids with impulsive and sensation-seeking temperament you might say something like this:
“With your Maserati engine, you often drive too fast. You have to slow down so you don’t impulsively say or do something sexually which could result in harm to you or another person. Sex holds an allure for everyone! It’s easy for anyone to make mistakes, especially teens with big-engine personalities.”
If you are first and foremost religiously-oriented, you might choose to use passages from the Bible, Torah, or Islamic texts, which emphasize respect for others and nonviolence. If you are an ardent feminist, maybe you will speak from that reference point.
A universal moral principle we can all agree on is the golden rule:
“Think about how you would feel if somewhat treated you like your body was theirs to rule, ridicule or hurt. Everyone wants respect and that truth can be your compass.”
But be forewarned — if you are overly zealous from any moral perspective, you may see a backfire effect (especially from teens). If kids recoil from what they perceive as your preaching, change your tactics.
If you have a personal history of sexual trauma, you may be triggered by current events. Talk to a professional or trusted friend about shielding your child from your triggers.
I’ve seen survivor parents become better-than-average communicators about sexual health and consent issues because they put great effort into the agenda.
What if your son was just accused of date rape but claims that he followed sexual consent guidelines? What if your daughter’s best friend told you that your daughter had a forced sexual encounter but had begged the friend for confidentiality? I have been consulted on all of these situations. Like one of my supervisors once advised me about the toughest of my cases, “Consult. Consult. Consult.”
Parents are not supposed to know how to handle cardiac surgery or sex crimes and misdemeanors.
Monica Lewinsky. Anita Hill. Christine Blasey Ford. Parents can be sad and mad that their young kids are subjected to tawdry or traumatic stories in the news.
We need to override distress with the conviction that “facing fears is good”. We make our kids healthier and stronger when they are informed and confident about the complications that surface in interpersonal relationships.
Parent trust, connectedness and credibility
When parents take it upon themselves to wade into discussing the complex world of sexuality, they fear they may get swamped. But if you raise the issues with sensitivity and calm earnestness, kids naturally feel closer to you.
Teens appreciate your effort and sincerity. It’s okay to not know all the answers — in fact, it’s best to admit you don’t.
Beyond the obvious goal of protecting your kids from these issues, you’ve proven that you love them enough to discuss these gnarly issues. You might well experience the unexpected bonus of increasing closeness in your relationship.