When I was 8 years old I learned about sex from my friends at a slumber party. Needless to say, their half-informed explanations were full of shock-value and slim on age-appropriateness or context. I was deeply disturbed. A few years later my parents signed the permission form for me to participate in the school's sex ed program, telling me to come to them if I had any questions. Beyond embarrassing; I never went to them. And that was the extent of my education until high school, when my friends started experimenting and my church leaders danced around the topic, some coming more to the point than others. Then I grew up and learned a little more from married friends and some well-recommended books. And that was that.
I'd like to do a little better for my own girls. With Hazel starting school this year, this has been weighing on my mind for several months. We all know how playground talk goes - kids with older siblings or unfiltered parents learn shocking words and start throwing them around, either inferring or inventing meanings for them. Then other kids start repeating them, and no one knows what they're talking about except that they are dirty, taboo or funny in some way. It starts with "bathroom talk." And quickly escalates from there.
Just the other day, Hazel told me over dinner, "Mom, 'balls' is another word for bottom."
Ah. "Who told you that and what exactly did they say?"
"Genny* told me. She just said, 'Balls is another word for bottom.'"
Aha. Genny has an older brother. Well I couldn't let it go at that, and I certainly wasn't going to ignore or negativize the topic. But, as usual, I am navigating uncharted waters, so I just delved in and explained as matter-of-factly as possible what it really means. Though we are without brothers, the girls are familiar with boy anatomy from cousin babies so we started there and concluded with the explanation that while "balls" is not a bad word, it's not polite to talk about people's private parts except in our family, so she shouldn't repeat whatever Genny was saying.
One conversation down, infinity to go.
A few weeks ago I saw a Real Families, Real Answers episode about pornography. In it, Rick Schatz of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families said, regarding talking to children about sex/internet safety/pornography:
Decide what you think is the right age to talk about it. Then subtract three years, and you'll only be one year late.
Which only confirms what I already knew, which is that with her 6th birthday coming up, it's time to begin and maintain an open dialogue about sex with Hazel. I don't think it's hard. At this age, it is not embarrassing or even very detailed. In fact, a few years ago when she asked about babies, I told her everything in a true but simple way. But it's been awhile. And, with her away from me most days, around numerous adults I don't know, I also need to talk to her about what is and isn't OK for adults to do. Heaven forbid someone tries to touch her inappropriately, and it will most likely never happen, but shame on me if it does and I haven't talked to her about it. I hesitate because who wants to put suspicion in a 5-year-old's mind, and suggest she can't trust her teachers? Who wants to tell her some adults are bad, and they might be ones in her life? Not me, but who wants their child left unprotected, even in the name of innocence? Like I said, this has been weighing on me.
And while they are young now, 10 years goes fast, and I need to establish openness, honesty, expectations, and moral principles way, way earlier than they may need them. Which means now. Which means saying the "S" word. And even more that I rarely say out loud. I find this, this and this helpful, for starters. If anyone has a good book on the topic, please recommend it.
I'm just beginning this road, or rather, this one lane on the mega-wide highway of parenting. And although it's not as urgent right now as dealing with tantrums, power struggles, and mealtimes, with its far-reaching implications, it is even more crucial.
And don't even get me started on slumber parties.
(*Her name's not really Genny.)