My sister has been working on paper; she's studying for her MBA. Occasionally she asks for my input- I am her big sister after all. This time she sought out my opinions of the assigned topic- teen pregnancy. Since she is the Director of Social Work at a nursing home, this is not an issue she has to deal with. Giving my two cents got me to thinking and lead me here to share my perspective.
It is my thought that the main issue at hand is communication, or in these case, a lack thereof. We live in a sex saturated culture, yet many people feel uncomfortable discussing it seriously. I firmly believe that it is my parental responsibility to guide my children, especially on matters of the heart, no matter how uncomfortable I may be. No one said parenting is easy. I don't think it is a wise idea to allow my children to gain certain information from their friends or friends of friends or some adult that may not have my child's best interest at heart.
I think communication needs to start early. Even if you are uncomfortable, it is baby steps. It may be awkward. There may be some false starts. But it becomes easier over time. The great thing about beginning early is that most questions only require a few simple direct answers. You don't have break out and tell everything you know complete with detailed diagrams. Most young children just want to know and then go about their business. I know, some of you are thinking, "Yeah, right! Easier said than done." That may very well be true. I was blessed with a very precocious first born. He has been normally curious. In part, he has always been surrounded by babies, pregnant women, and nursing moms. It has been a natural part of our lives and just part of the territory. I try to be as truthful and simple and direct as possible.
Okay, so I said early. How early? My advice is before they are born. Say again? I understand that as a parent that is a place you may not be ready to go. This is what makes it ideal because you can think about it without it feeling so personal. Think about your beliefs. What do you want for your child? These questions will help guide you in your responses. Do realize, however, that having children will change you. So some of your "pre-parent" thoughts may no longer fit into your parenting. Once the children are born, you should refer to their body parts by their proper names. Wait, before you run screaming from the computer let me make a point. I currently have three sons (yes, I said currently. No, I'm not pregnant-yet, but that's another post), and I can not imagine them at 11 or 12 or 13 coming to talk with me about sex or girls or any personal topic if I have referred to their penis as "caterpillar" or "wee-wee" or whatever else it can be called for their entire childhood. I suspect they would think I was a gigantic dork that doesn't have a clue about anything. They would be convinced that this proves they were hatched from an egg.
So now where do we go? Body image. As parents we need to ensure that we provide our children with a positive body image. I don't want my children to feel that their bodies are something shameful. God designed our bodies, and that alone should be embraced. I balance this out with modesty, respect, and privacy. I tell my children that body parts covered by undergarments are private areas and no one is allowed to touch them there unless it is mommy/daddy or the doctor while they are young. I also make sure they understand that they are also not allowed to touch anyone else's privates. For the most part, we have very little issues with this. Of course, we do have both boys and a girl so they are aware of the physical differences since they have been around lots of diaper changes. I do want them to feel comfortable about themselves, as I think that they will be more likely to seek out information later. If they are made to be ashamed then they will also be more likely to feel embarrassed and wrong about any changes that will occur and not feel safe discussing it with you.
I have mentioned being truthful and honest, and that leads me to my next point. I absolutely, positively believe that you should not lie or allow them to believe something false about sex. Huh? If you encourage or allow your child to believe that someone can get pregnant by holding hands or kissing or sharing a bed what do you think they will think when they find out different. They will know you lied, or at the very least, view you a non-reliable source. This is going to damage any further communication. I can not stress enough that no matter how uncomfortable you may be, please at least be honest. You can always go back and discuss it again, but don't sacrifice future communication because of discomfort. Also, if it isn't a good time to answer a question and you tell your child you will discuss it later, please make sure you do. This will also show you to be trustworthy. We want our children to trust us!
All children are different. Some may not have any questions or very few and far between. The point is to address the questions as they come. As I mentioned before, my 9 year old is precocious. He is also a worrier. He would lie awake at night and worry about kissing a girl and getting married and moving away from home. He was five. Now, my second oldest son is almost five, and he is completely different. He is only concerned about trains and enjoying life. That's fine. When he has a question, I'll answer it.
Now, I get to share with you what I want to. We still have a few more years, but I plan on making a big deal of our children's 13th birthdays. Thirteen is a big milestone. Children are officially teenagers, they are getting ready for high school, they are beginning a new chapter in their lives. It is my desire and responsibility to help prepare them for this journey. This birthday will bring some new privileges and responsibilities. They will be based on each individual child, but may include a later bedtime, a cell phone (yes, I realize that they may be the only one in their peer group without one), or staying home alone for short amounts of time. The boys will go on a guy weekend retreat (camping or game maybe) with dad for "The Talk." I think it is important for this first conversation to be with the dad (or an male who can serve in that role). It is less intimidating with the same sex. I will do something special with them later to let them in on a woman's perspective. With our daughter, I plan on a special weekend get away for our talk as well. Our talk may occur before this, if she begins her cycles. I do want her to know how important and special it really is (I'll leave the cramps out of it for now). My next idea, not mine- stole it. I loved the scene in the movie Courageous when the dad took his daughter on a special date and gave her ring that would be replaced by her husband on their wedding day. Completely melted my heart, and I decided at that moment I wanted that for my daughter. I kid not, I found the perfect ring for that night today. She's only three!
I cherish these children the Lord has blessed me with. I desire to help them build up a foundation that will support them throughout their lives. I want them to be able to come to me at any time and feel safe doing so. We need to be diligent on addressing matters of heart. Their lives and future depend upon it. It is a tough job, but parents need to do it.
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