Raising Sexually Healthy Kids in a 50 Shades World
There's no easy way to say it-- our culture is sexually sick. When did we start celebrating sexual/domestic violence and paying $15 to go watch it with a bucket of popcorn? The infatuation with "50 Shades of Grey" is startling proof of where we are at as a society (100 MILLION copies sold??!). As a parent, this makes me mad. It's bad enough that I have to talk to my kids about pornography at such an early age. Add violence and abuse on top of that, and our kids are in danger of forming very twisted views of intimate relationships. Thankfully, there are many things we can do to help protect our kids from these harmful messages.
1) Teach Kids About Sex. Early. Children must have a healthy understanding about what sex is and what it isn't. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND watching every second of these outstanding videos. They teach:
WHY having frequent, open discussions about sexuality helps safeguard kids from immorality and pornography. Not teaching IS teaching. Not communicating IS communicating. Just in the wrong way. Our kids are being taught from many, many sources. Instead of cocooning them we need to ARM them with truth and doctrine so they can navigate through the mess.
HOW we should teach them-- and help them to CLEARLY see the difference between a world-view of sexuality and a gospel-view of sexuality (this is really interesting!)
WHEN we should start teaching our kids. For example, the sanctity of the body, the importance of gender, modesty, etc.--all of which are connected to healthy sexuality-- can all be taught to toddlers. And have you ever thought of this: LDS children are asked in their temple recommend interview AT AGE 12 if they are keeping the Law of Chastity. This speaks volumes about the Lord's expectations that we teach our kids young.
HOW OFTEN we should talk. From toddler age on up, we layer the teaching on thick. Layer upon layer. And it's not all always about sex, but it IS all connected! Modesty, dating, pornography, relationships, gender, pregnancy, babies, marriage, covenants, puberty, respect, self-mastery, love--it's all connected!! And I want my kids to understand it as a whole--how it fits into the entire plan--- and not as something naughty and mysterious that you can't do until you are married.
My husband and I also use the FANTASTIC book, "How to Talk to Your Child about Sex" by Richard and Linda Eyre. Would you be surprised to learn the book suggests the "big" talk happens at age 8? Yep. Our three oldest children are (so far) completely comfortable asking us questions that occur to them, because we've been talking about this since they were each 8 years old.
2) Teach Kids the Truth About Violence and Abuse As the National Center on Sexual Exploitation points out, most women in violent sexual relationships (like Anastasia in "50 Shades") "end up in a women’s shelter, on the run for years, or dead.” It may seem silly to talk to young girls about abusive boys and men...but is it? How early is too early to teach our girls about unhealthy relationships? At the very least, we should be teaching them to observe which men and boys in their lives are loving, respectful, responsible, and protective- not only of their physical well being, but their virtue as well. Any man who manipulates a girl or makes her feel inferior is not a man she should invest in.
As for boys, I am hopeful that most understand it is not acceptable to physically harm a girl. Yet violence is something that is often glamorized and celebrated through mainstream media. The more our sons are exposed to violence in any form, the more they will become desensitized to its evil nature. They need to understand that violence is NEVER ok-- not even in a private, intimate relationship. It's abuse. Verbal, emotional, and sexual abuse are equally devastating. "50 Shades" sends the message that girls want a boy who "controls, intimidates, and threatens" instead of a man who cherishes, respects, and protects. With increasing escalation of this message in the media, our sons must understand that this is NOT TRUE and we should NOT SUPPORT the idea by watching it. (Read here for a real life example of how dangerous this type of relationship can be.)
Honestly, since reading up on what this book is about, I'm tempted to take all of my kids to volunteer in women's shelters regularly. It's a world they know nothing about, luckily, but I feel a need for them to understand its reality, ugliness, and effects.
3) Teach Boys To Respect Girls (Girls Are Not "Hot") In our family, our boys are not allowed to refer to girls as "hot." I want them to know it is ok and perfectly normal to have a crush on a girl. But I ask them to use words like "pretty" or "cute" or "beautiful" instead. In my opinion, words like "hot" or "sexy"-- even if used innocently or playfully-- promote the disrespectful idea that girls are objects to be lusted after. All children (and adults) need to understand that "healthy relationships are characterized by warmth, open communication, respect and mutuality" (see this) and NOT someone's physical body. Respecting girls begins with the way we think and speak about them.
4) Teach Girls to Respect Themselves The best way for a girl to learn to love and respect herself is by gaining a relationship with her Heavenly Father. When girls feel God's love they feel confident and happy, and don't need to look to outside sources to fulfill those needs. A girl who does not respect herself, or who feels distant from God, may easily fall victim to abusive friendships, boyfriends, and behaviors.
Girls also need physical and emotional contact with their earthly father. Research shows girls need physical touch from their dads. Read about it here. As for moms, let's be super careful about the way we talk about ourselves in front of our daughters. Our example of self respect (or disrespect) will be mirrored by our girls. Read why one mom started telling her daughters SHE is beautiful.
5) Teach Kids About Pornography and the Brain Kids need to know what pornography is and what to do when they see it. But they also need to know WHY to avoid it. Along with devastating spiritual effects, I like to talk to my kids specifically about what pornography does to the chemicals in their brains (hint: it acts just a like an addicting drug). That's scary enough. But did you know that over 80% of pornography is violent in nature? Which makes it no surprise that sexual violence is creeping into our movies and books- and thus spilling into our military, colleges, streets, and homes.
Pornography can come in many different forms, with or without images. It is certainly present on the internet, in movies and tv, and in video games. But it also has a presence in animation, music, and books. Children need to recognize it for what it is, understand its dangers, and know how to react. (This website and this website are excellent resources. And here is an article on how to talk to your kids about pornography. I also love this book by Jill Manning.)
6) Teach Kids About the Color Grey
As this article explains, "one of the most powerful deterrents to adolescent sexual activity and drug and alcohol use is the firm communication of parental expectations to their children." We must make every effort to ensure our children clearly understand what we and God expect of them-- especially when it comes to living clean in a filthy, 50 Shades world.