Saying "don’t" is not enough when talking to children about sex.
Imagine attending a dance class focused entirely on what steps not to do. It would only create questions and confusion. It is definitely important to teach children to avoid mistakes, but it is equally importantly to teach them what healthy sexuality is, so they will know how to create a healthy marriage later in life.
Scientific studies have clearly demonstrated that children who understand their bodies and are lovingly guided to understand the physical and emotional facts about human sexuality make better, healthier relationship choices.
Dr. Mark Kim Malan, Ph.D, MPH, DACS, a board certified clinical sexologist and sex therapist practicing in Utah, has found clinical evidence that many Utah children are not being prepared for marriage and sexuality in a healthy way. He believes parental sexual ignorance and cultural shame about their own sexuality often gets emotionally passed on to children. This often contributes to sexual dysfunction when they get married. A sexually dysfunctional marriage is very difficult to cope with. It can lead to divorce. Sex-starved spouses often turn to dysfunctional coping strategies rather than lose their kids and family.
Utah ranks No. 1 in subscriptions to pornography, says Benjamin Edelman, a Harvard professor who tracked subscriptions and published his findings in the article “Red Light States, who buys online adult entertainment” published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives.
“Where you have a culture that is known for family values, morality and apple pie, you will also have curiosity and interest in the forbidden,” said Theresa Martinez, a professor of sociology at the University of Utah.
It is possible many people have turned to unhealthy sources like pornography because they haven’t received enough information about healthy sexual relationships from their parents?
Malan said there is much more parents can do to teach their children about sexuality. They could better prepare them for a healthy marriage, while still teaching them to have healthy sexual boundaries. He recommends the following tips for parents:
1. Be a healthy role model. Before parents can teach their children how to be sexually healthy, parents must make sure they have a positive attitude about sex. Children learn more from what parents do than what they say. Parents who hold hands, cuddle, kiss and who tell each other “I love you” model healthy love and sexuality for their kids. If parents feel uncomfortable showing affection or think they may have a sexually unhealthy marriage, they may need professional help.
2. Use a child’s questions as learning opportunities. The best teaching moments happen when kids are curious. Simple factual answers delivered with a positive and caring attitude are all that’s needed. Children need emotionally safe and caring parents who are approachable about sex. Kids won’t ask questions if they know their parents are uncomfortable or overly moralistic about the answers. The love parents express in their answers is as important as the facts they share. Always relating sex to love helps children form positive sexual values. Help them to understand that sex is a beautiful expression of love for a husband or wife.
3. Answer questions accurately. When they ask about why girls bodies are different than boys, explain that it is mostly so children can be born. It takes both a mom and a dad to create life and love and nurture it. The inevitable “Why?” that follows is an opportunity to explain the beauty of love between two people and their natural joyful connection that creates the desire to have a family. Then follow with, “How do you feel about that?” This opens the door for an emotional and supportive connection.
Children are fascinated by the miraculous story about how human seeds in our bodies grow life, just like other plants and animals. Children will see the reproductive process as magical and loving, if parents exude that same attitude as well.
Parents should prepare themselves for questions beforehand by reading books about sexual health written for children like “Belly Buttons are Navels,” “It’s Perfectly Normal,” “It’s So Amazing” or NOVA’s “Miracle of Life.” Parents should read them first so they can decide if they want to read a book with them or simply verbalize information in a way that fits their personal values.
4. Nurture self worth. Sexual health begins with a healthy body image. Children need to be able to name all the parts of their body correctly and see them as beautiful and nothing to be ashamed of. Children need to know they are “good” and their bodies are “good.” There should be no “naughty” parts. Little children have no natural body shame. Being undressed is not sexual to them. Don’t “scrub” the fun out of bath time or rob them of their innocence by over-attention to their genital touching that unnecessarily and negatively sexualizes their bodies.
5. Never shame. Humans have pleasurable genital feelings from birth. Children must feel safe to explore and accept their bodies and sexual feelings in order to function as healthy adults. Small children will naturally discover that their genitals give them pleasure regardless of any parental supervision. Telling them not to touch their genitals backfires (they will anyway) and is psychologically unhealthy. This only instills guilt and shame, which can later lead to dysfunction.
Instead, acknowledge the joy of feeling these good feelings in a positive way by teaching them about privacy, personal sexual boundaries and the value of sharing this special pleasure with the person they love and marry when they grow up.
When children make inevitable mistakes, help them understand mistakes are teachers and guide them to better decision making by acknowledging the natural consequences of their behavior and exploring healthier alternatives.
6. Innocence not ignorance. Knowledge prepares children to make healthy choices. Childhood ignorance about our bodies and lack of understanding about sexual feelings can lead to adult sexual dysfunction. No one can be healthy who is uninformed or feels guilty or shameful about his or her bodies. Studies confirm that children who receive unconditional love and acceptance from parents form healthy psychological and sexual self-worth.
7. Waiting until a child is a teenager to talk about sex is too late. By the teenage years many incorrect ideas about sexuality have already been developed. Parents in this position need to be open about sexuality and create a safe place where teenagers can talk about their feelings, questions, and insecurities. Teenagers won’t be embarrassed to talk about sex if mom and dad aren’t either. This instills confidence that his parents are a wise and caring resource.
If parents have not handled talking about sexuality with their children in a positive way before now, the most effective thing they can do is have a heart-to-heart talk and apologize for their lack of sexual knowledge or underdeveloped attitudes and give their child permission to become sexually healthy anyway. Parents can also become a better role model by exemplifying healthier sexual attitudes in their own marriage. Even the adult children will notice the difference.
A note from Malan: If any of these suggestions make you feel like a “fish out of water” or uncomfortable, it may be a good idea to learn more about sexuality and parenting. Your parents may not have given you a healthy sexual education because they didn’t have it to give. Parents can break the unhealthy cycle. They can re-parent and learn to be honest and helpful to their children. Their future relationships are in your hands.
My high school student really struggles with homework. I know it’s important to learn study skills now so she will be prepared for college. What advice could you give her on homework and preparing for tests?
They really ought to have a class on "How to Study" in every school. Here are some creative tricks for homework and memorization that every student should know.
1) Always tackle your toughest assignments first. Do them while your mind is freshest, and you'll get through it faster. Save the fun ones for last.
2) Separate homework into “What I can do on my own” and “What I need help with.” Do everything you can on your own first and then get help on the rest. This creates independence, responsibility and confidence.
3) Prepare for tests long before they happen. Use one of the following techniques and you will never have to study for a test again. You will have read the information so many times during the term, you will already know it.
Create flash cards: As you read each chapter, create a flash card for each concept or fact you come to. Review all your flash cards, for each class, every night.
Create your own tests: After you read each chapter, sit back and think of some test questions you might ask if you were the teacher. You will often choose the same questions your teacher will. Write down those test questions and the answers. Review all these practice tests every night.
Review your notes: This one got me through college: Every night, read through all your notes from every class. It shouldn’t take long to do a quick read over. After a few weeks, you will have all the info memorized.
4) Follow a few simple guidelines when taking a test. Read each question and all the directions very carefully before you put pencil to paper. Skip over questions you don’t know the answer to and come back to those at the end, if you have time. Take a deep breath and relax. Being tense and scared makes your brain stop working. It’s just a test, you’re going to do fine.
5) Develop tricks for memorizing information. Try the following:
Use your imagination: When you have a fact to remember (especially a name or date), create a picture in your mind using the name or numbers. To remember Bill Gates, you might imagine a guy standing in front of a gate holding a telephone bill. You get the idea.
Create fun acronyms or sentences using each letter of a word: When I was a child I learned to spell “arithmetic” by memorizing the following sentence, “A red Indian thought he might eat tobacco in church.” It was easy to remember, and the first letter of each word spells "arithmetic." You can also create acronyms to remember lists of information. To remember grapes, oranges, lemons and apples, you just remember "gola."
Anthropomorphize the concept: It’s not as complicated as it sounds. Anthropomorphizing is just giving an inanimate object human characteristics. Make each fact or concept into a funny person with strange name. It makes them stick in your brain.
Imagine a room to remember facts: Imagine a room you are familiar with and see all the things you know are in the room. Now link each fact to something in that room. Pillows go with pancreas, etc. During the test you just call up the memory of the room, and you will automatically remember what you linked with each object.
Write it: Writing the facts or words over and over cements them into your memory. This works best if you write the information in the same order every time. Then the picture of that list will pop up in your mind.
Record it: Record your voice repeating the facts and listen to the MP3 file over and over. You can study while exercising or doing other things.
6) Use special techniques for math. Here are some suggestions:
Don’t procrastinate: Get your math homework done while the concept is freshest in your mind. Try to get it done in class while the teacher is right there, or as soon as possible when you get home.
Ask questions in class if you don’t understand: Don’t be shy about asking for help. I guarantee you’re not the only one who is lost.
Do complicated problems over again: If you are struggling with a concept, photocopy a page from the textbook and re-solve the problems every day. Solving the same problems over and over cements the concept in your mind.
Work out pictures or diagrams or make up stories to go along with concepts: You can remember the steps for long division by rehearsing the family order, “Dad, Mom, Sister, Brother, Rover.” It helps you remember, “Divide, Multiply, Subtract, Bring down and Remainder.”
Break it up: If a complex formula has you stumped, break it down. Every formula is made of “little parts” you learned in the past. Then create a system or phrase that ties the little parts together.
Pass this article along to your student and see if some fresh study ideas make a difference this year.
Last but not least: Don't let your mind wander. It's too small to be out by itself.
I don’t stop when I see people standing by the side of the road with a cardboard sign explaining their situation.
I give a percentage of my income each year to programs that help the homeless. So I don’t feel guilty about not stopping, but recently I stopped and it was an amazing experience.
As I was leaving the grocery store I noticed a middle-aged African American woman with a sign that said something about starting over. I honestly didn’t read it in my rush to get home.
As I pulled into the street, I also noticed the white rubber bracelet on my wrist with the words “Pay it Forward” on it and immediately decided to try something different.
A few weeks ago, Don Hudson and I had Charley Johnson a volunteer with the Pay it Forward Foundation as a guest on our radio show. He explained since the hit movie in "Pay if Forward" 2000 there has been a movement to encourage the Pay-it-Forward concept using the popular rubber bracelets.
The bracelet reminds the wearer to be on the lookout for someone to help. He believes this reminder makes all the difference because it keeps kindness in the forefront of your mind.
When you do a random act of kindness, you are supposed to pass your bracelet on to that person and encourage them to do the same.
I had been wearing my bracelet for weeks and had yet to find an appropriate person to pass it on to, but this woman touched my heart. I swerved around the parking lot and pulled up next to her.
I presented her with some cash and as she thanked me I quickly added, “Would you do something for me? Find someone else you can do something nice for and Pay it Forward. OK? And when you do something for someone else, pass this bracelet on to them.”
With a huge smile, she said she would do it and was already putting it on as I pulled away. The reason this simple exchange warrants the telling of this story is because of the amazing feeling I had on the ride home.
I can’t remember when I last felt so energized and happy. I felt like laughing. It was the feeling of pure joy and the feeling stayed with me for the rest of the day.
I wonder who benefited most from my random act of kindness.
Johnson believes giving these bracelets to the homeless, who are constantly asking for help, can change their outlook on life because the wearer is automatically more focused on other people. They also get to experience the joy of giving the way I had.
This got me thinking about an incident that happened to me about five years ago when I was a struggling single mom.
I had taken my son to Famous Footwear to look for some shoes, but the pair he wanted was completely out of my price range. I was explaining how I couldn't afford those shoes when a woman approached me and offered to help.
She explained the store was having a buy one, get one half off sale and she was only planning to buy one pair of shoes.
She offered to take my son’s shoes to the register with her and get them for half price. We agreed to meet outside so I could pay her for the now half price shoes. My son was thrilled.
When we met her outside, she refused to take any money from me and said the shoes were a gift. As I tearfully thanked her, she told me to pay it forward to someone else instead.
I have never forgotten that act of kindness.
I am convinced there is great power in this movement. What if 100 people received bracelets today? What if wearing the bracelet reminded them to be a little kinder? Can you imagine the powerful change that could happen in our community?
The Pay it Forward Foundation is looking for businesses, individuals or groups who would be interested in distributing bracelets.
If you have a Pay it Forward story to share, send it to email@example.com
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of LDS Life Coaching and www.claritypointcoaching.com. She is a sought after life coach who has a popular radio show LIFEadvice on Utah's AM 1430 Saturday Mornings at 8 a.m. MST
FOR MORE FREE
Coaching is less expensive than you think - If you need help we can find you a coach you can afford.
Kimberly Giles is the president and founder of Claritypoint Life Coaching and 12 SHAPES INC. She is an author and professional speaker. She was named one of the top 20 advice gurus in the country by Good Morning America in 2010. She appears regularly on local and national TV and Radio.