Having a fully developed daughter with Down syndrome who is already 12 years old can be a scary thing. While Amelia may have no inclination as of yet about things like sex and marriage (I think), the fact is that the world has plenty to tell her about those things. Like many parents raising kids with special needs, I admit that I am guilty of thinking that perhaps these things “don’t yet” apply to my girls – but I may be wrong.
Fortunately, Family Christian sent me some books that helped me with this task. Let’s talk about purity, raising Christian children, and our fallen world.
In “More Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex,” author Jonathan McKee sets parents straight on the why’s and how’s of having not just “the Talk,” but creating a on-going dialogue with your child about sex, romance, love, purity and God’s will for all these things. The first chapter is a bit scary, as McKee shares facts like these (emphasis is mine):
- “Young teens who viewed movies with sexual content were profoundly influenced by what they watched. They initiated sexual behavior earlier than their peers…” –Psychological Science study.
- The average age of first Internet exposure to porn? 11.
- “Teens who listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages (think “Blurred Lines”, a chart-topper) were twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the following 2 years as were teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.” -study from The Journal of Pediatrics.
Scared yet? McKee devotes a whole chapter to stats like this, not to mention those that are relayed throughout the book, but the message is clear: If YOU’RE not talking to your kids about sex, then THEY are listening to someone else.
So what is a parent raising a child with difficulties in communication to do? Bottom line: Whatever you can. In “More Than Just the Talk,” McKee outlines a number of ideas you can start with and modify for your children (once you are passed of the shock of all the stats you read in this book)! Here are what I thought were some of his best suggestions, and how I plan on modifying them for my girls:
1. Don’t make sex naughty.
I think this is a natural reaction for all parents, but when it comes to those of us who are reasonably sure our kids probably shouldn’t have kids or possibly never be sexually mature in their brain, we tend to fall back on this. The problem is telling them that sex is “naughty” is playing “all or nothing” with this idea. The reality is that sex is a God-created gift for married couples to share with each other, nothing more or less. And your child with special needs may get married, for some of you, they may have children. If so, they need to know that sex is NOT dirty, naughty or “wrong” or it will mess them up when they do commit to someone. (Believe me, been there.) The lesson of “sex is wrong/naughty” links up all kinds of negativity with the act that will damage future relationships and mess up their marriages – or lead them to years of therapy. McKee gives you plenty of tips on how to teach your children why sex outside of marriage can be damaging but that sex within a marriage is healthy and leads to all kinds of good things – and none of them recommend teaching that it’s “naughty.”
2. Keep your eyes open for natural discussion.
This is difficult but the easiest places to start with this are song lyrics and TV shows. If you’re not comfortable straight up opening up the topic sex in your kid’s play list, ask about another complex topic your child might encounter to break ground – like death. I know, that’s also challenging but at least there’s no “embarrassment” factor. My daughter likes the song “If I Die Young” by Band Perry – this is a good way to practice discussing a challenging topic – and the faith that goes along with it. (I’m still wrangling out the “Bad Romance” chat…suddenly, Amelia’s been listening to that A LOT and those lyrics are just plumb confusing.) Or, start up a conversation about boys (or girls, if you have a son). I’m actually missing my daughter’s Justin Bieber phase because I’m not sure which teen idol she likes now. At that time, it gave me a great leg up on talking about boys, dating, feelings, marriage and waiting by opening with a simple, “He’s cute, isn’t he?”
3. Don’t avoid teaching about the racier Bible stories.
Oh, I’m not saying this isn’t a tough one but hello – sex is right in there, starting in Genesis (one of the truly racier books in the Bible, by the way) from chapter 1 (1:28) and including good old 4:1: “Adam made love to his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.” This goes back to point #1 and you need to keep these points IN or your child will struggle with other scriptural messages, like the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman or rules for holy living in Colossians 3. You don’t have to attack everything at once (and you may want a to do the NKJV version of Genesis 4:1 which says it without saying it) but the key is NOT to pretend that sex doesn’t exist.
I think a lot more parents do this than would like to admit it, and I’m guilty of it too! While you should teach this stuff at the age-appropriate level, be aware of things like early puberty in girls (as young as age 7) and early exposure to sexual messages pretty much everywhere in our culture-it’s tough to shield our kids from the radio, the ads, magazine stands! The Bible is an easy and safe source to talk about sex so go ahead and use it but make sure to pray and plan out your lesson first.
4. Teach your child his or her value.
This is not about raising narcissists, but about giving your children self-esteem by praising their accomplishments – not every act they do, but the stuff they work hard at or their talents or even taking on a chore without being told when you had to tell them every other day. That’s easy, but it’s also important to show them their value as a boy or a girl in God’s eyes. I tell my children that God made them just so wonderfully (yes – I compliment beautiful breasts and pretty colored hair) and make sure each girl knows her strengths too. They both have a heart for others and nurturing skills, and while Amelia is creative, Zoe is smart. Both are loyal and that is an excellent trait when handled properly so I temper it as I’m beginning to teach about trust. (Judas and the Easter season are a great help).
And I’m trying to work on teaching privacy, at least, why they need to be conscious to cover up this or that body part (it’s only for you and a select few people to see: your future husband or your doctor when your in for a checkup, for example). I let both my kids know that change clothes only when you are alone. It’s not taught as shame, it’s taught as privacy, which is valuable: “These are just for you and are private. If you get married one day, your husband can see it too.” I’ll admit, I’m stumbling my way around but I don’t want them NOT to have heard it.
5. Don’t freak out.
When something crops up in your child’s line of sight or hearing that is about sex, act naturally – don’t panic, don’t cover their eyes and don’t freak out. Of course, I’m not suggesting you let your 9 or 12-year-old watch “Game of Thrones” – I’m absolutely for age-appropriate monitoring. But sexual images and languages are all around and freaking out makes kids not only associate negativity with sex (see #1), it also opens up the “hmmmmm, what’s that about???” curiosity reflex.
So stop looking at teaching your kids about sex as a one-time “talk” and start thinking of this as a life long dialogue to engage your child so they can make right choices and have your wisdom (not your condemnation) in their head when they find themselves in tempting or compromising situations.
I thought “More Than Just the Talk“ was an EXCELLENT guide to navigating sexuality with your kids using sound, Christian principles to discuss an uncomfortable topic – and make it easier for your family to talk about. The second book I got to review for this post is “The New Rules for Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley – and this one is a gem! While it does have a Christian author and perspective, Stanley masterfully approaches the topic for young adults and older teens by talking to them where they are at. His tone is effective if, as I believe and have experienced, you think that younger people have a sex life that causes them pain, trouble, loneliness or the inability to find the “right” person. (He tackles that topic right off the bat!) This is an amazing guidebook and it’s totally non-judgmental, as well as full of sound wisdom. This book would have saved me a lot of pain, tears and bad decisions when I was young, dumb and single. Or, at least I think it may have – I was pretty hard-headed and single-minded when it came to guys in my youth. “New Rules” is the cure for that.