Dear Flint Hill School Families,
We have taken time this month to discuss various concerns that young people face throughout their lives and how we, as the adults, can help. This week, I want to address one of the more challenging topics we face as parents. Human sexuality is a critical component of life that we, as parents, need to address with our children. In my own psychology classes, which average about 18 students each semester, when we get to the unit on sexuality, I have always asked who has had a frank and direct conversation with their parents about this topic. Would you be surprised to know that I have never had more than four students in a class raise their hands? In fact, I share with them that I have a vivid and a painful memory of my own discussion with my father, which probably lasted under a minute before I bluffed my way out of the conversation. I clearly remember my father’s anxiety, but I did walk away with a set of brochures and materials that he had kindly gathered to aid him in his talk with me.
It is a complex issue, and yet it’s right at the heart of who we are as individuals. We have our own sexual identities and our own ability to understand the feelings we have for others, even if we have questions about what is right or wrong and how others interact with us. It is important to honestly discuss these questions at any age. Recent research shows that many children today learn about sexuality from internet pornography. The next source of information is their friends. Parents, sadly, are well down the list, and that is unacceptable. To be transparent with our own boys, I had our “talk” when I was driving alone with them in the car. They couldn’t escape, and I had to keep my eyes forward. I think it worked, though our older boys did warn our youngest son to never drive alone with me! Whatever your approach, it’s an important conversation to have.
So what can and should we do? Much of what can be done has been previously shared in my weekly notes: we need to be knowledgeable; we need to listen and engage; and we need to create an atmosphere at home where kids can openly talk and ask questions. We need to set that stage early to give our children the confidence to talk to us about their concerns, situations or questions.
Here are some additional things to consider:
- Answer questions when they arise. Where do babies come from? We have all heard that question at some point in our lives with our children. But let’s never forget that all they want to hear is a basic, simple answer, particularly when they are young. They do not need or want a full, in depth, biological review. But you can use that question to open the door to talk about loving relationships, personal space, appropriate and inappropriate touching, and the need for you as a parent to know if they are ever uncomfortable with anything they may have experienced.
- React to what you see. When you are watching a TV show or a movie with your children or hear a story on the news that created an opportunity for discussion, you need to react rather than remain silent. You may do it in a very open-ended way, such as asking what your child thinks or how a story made him or her feel. This conversation can be done in a very safe, open way, but it is also an opportunity for you to share your values and insights. Furthermore, it’s critically important to hear theirs, and it can be the start of a very productive conversation.
- Stay positive. Whatever the struggle or question may be, kids need to know that they are loved unconditionally. They need to feel that we are always available for them as a resource, as a sounding board, as a confidant and, of course, as parents. When it comes to human sexuality, there are issues that can make people go quiet, get embarrassed or blush, but our children need to know that we will take that meaningful risk and talk to them. They deserve our love, our commitment and our willingness to really make a difference in this critical part of their life.
At the same time, please know that we are here for you. Our team of counselors, teachers and school leaders are here as partners for you, to help whenever needed on this incredible journey of life. If we can be engaged in any way possible in the discussion or in helping you to prepare to have that discussion, please don’t ever hesitate to reach out to us. There will never be any judgment on our part. We absolutely know how critical those discussions are, and sometimes it really does take a team to do things well. Remember, we are all Huskies.
Enjoy this beautiful weather! I hope to see many of you tonight at the Arts Jam Concert at George Mason University to celebrate our incredible musicians, dancers, singers and actors. It is going to be quite the show, and then we will all be able to enjoy Springfest this weekend as we finally get a chance to get consistency in the weather.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas