The Talk(s)

Teaching our kids to swim can be a wonderful and fun experience, can it not? If you love to swim, then you long for the day when your young children can venture out into the swelling surf at the beach, riding those waves, enjoying a wonderful day in the water right by your side or solo. But who among us would wait until they are teens or pre-teens to talk with them about how to swim? If swimming is something important that we want them to experience, in a healthy and safe way, wouldn’t we begin, slowly and patiently and incrementally, to teach them how to swim when they are young? We would take them and start in the kiddie pool, sitting with them, splashing and laughing but teaching them about the water, both the fun and the danger. When they look up out of the kiddie pool over to the “big” pool, we remind them that that is indeed their destination one day, but not right now. When they climb out of the kiddie pool and begin to run over to the deep water, we grab them up, explaining again that they are not ready for that adventure yet. As they grow, we move into the shallow end of the bigger pool, perhaps putting floaties on their arms so that they can enjoy the deeper water but still be safe. We bob and splash with them teaching as we go. When they reach a certain age and point of maturity and strength, we take off the floaties and hold them as we teach them how to tread water and cup their hands to pull water in a stroke. As they strengthen and gain experience, we move away a little and allow them to experience the joy of swimming, but always attentive and there to rush over if something goes wrong. Wonderfully, one day we get to watch them enjoy the beach, body surfing on the waves, diving down to see what is under the surface and spending long hours in the water, safe and trained and independent (though as a parent we never stop worrying or correcting or teaching- even when they are 30!)

What parent would take their young child and simply toss them into the deep surf at the ocean and trust that they could indeed swim? What parent would trust a stranger walking by to watch their child and give some pointers on how to swim or trust that their friends had adequately helped them to learn both the true joys as well as the dangers? What parent would wait until their child is walking down to the surf to pull them aside and have a talk with them about how to swim for a few minutes before sending them into the deep; simply giving them a bathing cap to keep their head/hair protected or only telling them about how deadly rip currents can be or how to spot and fend off sharks in the water?

In the past few weeks we have been talking about protecting our teens (and ourselves) in this sexually saturated culture. While protection is indeed one of our callings as parents, equally important is our call to teach and instruct and prepare. How many of you while growing up were sat down by a parent to have the “talk”? You know the one -  that awkward, brief, talk about sex; often with a parent who seemed embarrassed to have to use words like sex or penis (it is even uncomfortable typing it now!) or intercourse. As a guy, maybe your dad sat you down and talked to you when you were twelve or thirteen about the changes going on with your body or about this thing called sex. Did he talk about marriage and God’s original intent for sexual intimacy? Did he talk about love as he tried to tell you where babies came from? As a guy did you not already know a great deal about the mechanics of what he was telling you, gaining this knowledge from a friend or from locker room talk? As a girl did your mother try and explain about your coming monthly cycle and the changes it would bring? Did she uncomfortably try and explain sex to you, perhaps portraying it as a necessary evil to one day please your husband? Or did either of your parents ever sit you down even once to have any kind of talk with you in the areas of sexuality and intimacy and love? Many of us grew up in the era of sex education at school, our parents feeling it best to leave such matters to the “professionals” (and I put this in quotes not to demean or diminish educators, but simply to highlight that maybe they are not the ones best equipped to deal with such delicate and important matters, certainly not from a Biblical perspective).

When is the best time to have “the talk”? What words do we use? How much information is too much information? Perhaps we need to begin the process of formulating a plan (and we do indeed need a plan otherwise it will never happen – a little like wanting to lose weight or exercise, always putting it off until next week or some other time). Should we shoot for one talk or is it better for us to look at this from a relational perspective? Just like with swimming, we need to begin from early on to develop a relationship with our kids so that we are talking with them and instructing them in the big and bold and beautiful issues of life. Now I am not advocating having a talk with your five year old about sex in the same way that you would one who is ten or twelve but we need to begin from a very young age to lay a foundation of communication. We want our kids to know that they can talk to us about anything, because we have indeed been talking to them about everything from a young age. We, of course, need to be age appropriate, so when they are young we talk to them about how God created them in His image, male and female. We point out (things they already have noticed) that there are differences between boys and girls, both emotionally and physically. We are honest and appropriate to tell them where babies come from. We do not need to mislead them into believing that a winged animal magically deposits children at the door step of their parents’ home. We want them to understand that this is a wonderful gift from God, a part of how He made us. We use age appropriate words, and we don’t have to tell them everything in one exhausting, uncomfortable talk. We want to have hundreds of conversations with them over their early years, both biological talks and Biblical talks, weaving them together as is God’s intention. We want to take advantage of “as you go” opportunities to talk about sexuality. When watching a TV show together that begins to venture into this area either appropriately or inappropriately, we want to engage their hearts and minds in conversation. Perhaps it is appropriate and right to turn the channel or shut the show off but let us not simply shut the TV down or turn the radio station without explaining why we are doing so. If all we ever do is shut it off, then we can be inadvertently communicating that all sex or sexuality topics are wrong or dirty or off limits. Their interest is heightened as biological beings, and so we need to take advantage of these opportunities to teach and instruct from God’s Word. The more we do it the easier it gets and the more likely they will come to you when they have questions, instead of going to their friends or the internet for answers.

Perhaps all of this seems overwhelming! Begin with prayer asking God for wisdom. He has promised to give wisdom and to do so abundantly (James 1:5).  Begin looking for ways to point out God’s design for men and women as you ride in the car listening to the radio with your children and as you sit watching TV.  In the coming weeks, we will talk about a number of resources that can help you as you begin to talk with your young children about this important topic as well as discussing why it is never too late to begin to talk about these things with our older children.  Remember that it is not your talks alone that will keep your child on the path of the sexually pure. Remember that “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).  Take confidence in this truth as you seek to parent by faith and not by sight!