I knew that eventually, my eldest son and I would have to have "the conversation." But I never expected that conversation to be initiated by a Carrie Underwood video!
Although most Christian parents seek to shield their children from being exposed to adult themes too early, all of us slip up from time to time, usually by simply not paying attention. My slip up came a few weeks ago, on a laid-back Saturday morning. While helping my wife in the kitchen, the Saturday morning video line-up was playing on Country Music Television, giving us what any honorable red-neck would consider to be the ideal musical background for our activities.
Somewhere in that lineup was Carrie Underwood's newest video, which illustrated a story-driven song about her seeking revenge for the two-timing nature of her ex. My wife was unconsciously humming, and having seen the video before, I was lamenting the uneccesary pain she inflicted on the guy's ride (It really is a shame what she did to that truck!). Simultaneous to this, but unbeknownst to us, my oldest son was in the living room, hearing words that made no sense to him. A few seconds later, he rounded the corner into the kitchen to ask "Daddy, what is a 'tramp' and what does it mean to 'cheat'?"
Needless to say, that moment awakened me to the fact that my vigilance level needs to be ratcheted up a knotch or two when it comes to my kids. At the same time, I realized that children are being exposed to sexuality earlier than ever before. When 8-year-old girls are wearing shorts to school with "juicy" written across the backside, something is definitely wrong with our culture!
Over the next couple of weeks, my son and I had off-and-on conversations about sex, and through these conversations, I'd like to think I have learned a few things regarding how and when parents should talk to their children.
1. Bring it up sooner rather than later. My oldest is six. By most standards in the past, that would be way too early to have a conversation about sex. The problem is that in our current culture, by the time they are this age they have likely already been exposed to sexual themes, and been informed regarding sexuality by many other venues. And no matter how hard we try to shield them from this exposure, it simply cannot be avoided.
While conservatives rightly contend that sex education should be the responsibility of parents, often those same conservatives wait entirely too long to bring up the subject matter in their own homes. Let's face it: in most Christian households, by the time parents decide its time to talk about sex, the kids already know more than they do!
The first communication on this subject should come from Mom and Dad. If we seek to overcome the evil influence of our culture in this area, we have to beat it to the punch!
2. Communication about sex should be overwhelmingly positive. Clearly, the Biblical mandate concerning sex is that it only occur between one man and one woman who are married to each other. Unfortunately, this is the extent of most communication given to the children of evangelicals. To be sure, this boundary line should be marked clearly, but it should also be seen against the backdrop of God's overall intention regarding sexuality.
When educating their children, parents need to be clear from the start that sex is a gift from God. It is a good thing; in fact, it is a GREAT thing! It feels incredible and is designed to be the physical glue that ties husband and wife together in an even more intimate bond. Rather than portraying sex as something young men do to "lose their virginity," or as something that "de-flowers" our daughters, parents should celebrate this wonderful gift of God, and communicate their desire for their children to eventually have a fulfilling and God-glorifying sex life with their future spouses. Such is the background against which God's marital boundary around this gift can not only be clearly understood, but willingly embraced.
The marital bond should be portrayed by parents as something sacred, meaning that boys and girls learn respect for the opposite sex in light of their anticipated marriage. My son should learn to anticipate all the things he will one day share with his wife, and this same realization should result in the appropriate level of respect he should give to girls who may one day be someone else's wife.
3. Don't be crude, but do be frank. As a child, I was told that babies are created when a mommy and daddy "love" each other enough to create one. That being the extent of the conversation, I spent my early elementary school years trying hard to avoid "liking" a girl too much, lest she end up pregnant!
Parents should not only talk openly with their children about sex as a gift, but they should be accurate in describing what exactly sex is. This doesn't mean using crude language, or going into graphic detail with your six-year old. It does, however, mean clearly stating that sex is a physical activity. The conversation might even sound like this:
God designed a man's body and a woman's body so that they fit together. When this fit happens, it creates a really, really good feeling that God intended a husband and wife to feel for each other. God also created our bodies in such a way that when a man and woman have sex, their bodies together can make a third body, which is where babies come from.
A conversation like this isn't crude, but it is clear enough that a young child can understand what "sex" is. Such knowledge is not only useful for sex education, but also in the context of certain theological discussion. How can a young child actually believe in the virgin birth if he or she doesn't know what a "virgin" is? Contrary to the "sanitized" Sunday School definition of the term, a "virgin" is not neccesarily an unmarried woman! The present culture no longer allows for such a shallow understanding of this term.
Rest assured, if your kids first hear about sex from the culture, it will likely be crude. Our conversations about this subject don't have to be crude, but if our children are going to be properly equipped, they do have to be clear.
4. Parents should set the example for their kids regarding sex. Obviously, this statement is not intended to mean what it could mean! There are certain actions between husband and wife that without question should remain in the bedroom. Nevertheless, what happens in the bedroom often spills over into the other rooms of the house. In practical terms, this means that children should see mom and dad holding hands, hugging, kissing, flirting with each other, chasing each other around the house, and generally enjoying each other's company. Frankly, for this to happen in front of the kids with authenticity, mom and dad need to have a great sex life.
Young boys should be aware that dad is attracted to mom, and to mom alone! They should see in dad the sexual rewards that come from years of fidelity to one woman. By contrast, young girls should witness mom enjoying the kiss, the touch, the flirting. Once married, a woman should never hesitate to express herself in this way to her husband, and young girls will be much more likely to enjoy this good gift of God as married women, if a strong Biblical precedent is set by mom! Sure, from time to time kids will retch at watching mom and dad in this way, but isn't that part of the fun?
Perverted forms of sex abound in our culture. And as is the case with most other social issues, the problem isn't sex. The problems are the perverted forms of sex. Our children need a healthy, God-centered, Biblical model of sexuality, and they need it sooner than other children have in the past. If they don't get it from us, they will get the alternate version from someplace else.