Advice concerning children (Pt 3)
Contents of this Part
Talk about drugs
Talk about sex
Sexual orientation/gender assignment
Don’t know the answer ?
Talk about drugs
I strongly recommend that you raise with your children the topic of drug use when they are still in their early teens. There is lots of official information around that you might find helpful for these conversations, and I encourage you to use it. I think the key messages are:
- to live a happy life, you need a healthy mind and body for as long as possible – drugs can be a fast way to wreck the health of both your mind and your body
- it is quite possible to have a great time at a party or anywhere else without drugs
- if you need drugs to have a good time, but the drugs stop you from remembering that you had a good time, what was the point of having the drugs ?
- you cannot be fully in control of yourself if you are under the influence of drugs – that can make you very vulnerable to bad things happening to you
- the other side of that coin is that if you are under the influence of some drugs, you may do things, such as hurt, or even kill, other people, that you may regret for the rest of your life (and that will obviously have horrible consequences for other people) – and I am not just talking about drugs causing temporary craziness: temporary drug-induced drowsiness is all that it takes to kill someone if you are driving a car
- some drugs, in particular ice and strong marijuana, can permanently mess up your brain in a way that can ruin your life irretrievably – other drugs can ruin your liver or other organs that most people find useful
- drugs bought on the street are often mixed with all sorts of things that no one in their right mind would ingest if they knew what they were – some of these things can kill you or cause you long-term detrimental health effects (think I’m kidding ? check it up for yourself, but drugs have been found cut with weed killer, battery acid, rat poison – but surely they wouldn’t try to kill their customers ? surely not, but I repeat, check it out for yourself, as not everything in the world makes sense …
- there is no way of knowing how strong drugs bought on the street are
- similarly, there is no way of knowing what is in what you buy on the street (whether it contains any drug at all, the drug you think you are getting, some other drug or poison)
- no one knows what long term effect a lot of the newer drugs will have
- that also applies to some drugs that have been around for a long time – in particular it applies to marijuana, as there is still a lot of research that needs to be done to suss out all the possible effects of some forms of marijuana – just because marijuana is being legalised in lots of places doesn’t mean that it is necessarily safe to use.
(I note that most of the above messages apply equally well to alcohol.)
These key messages are not lecture points – they are intended to be topics of conversation that you can have with your children. And it should be a conversation – remember, that involves listening to your children – that is, actually hearing what they have to say in a way that means that you understand and acknowledge what they are saying. If there is any disagreement on any of the key messages, do some joint research (meaning working together, not hunting up and trying pot) to get more information. As I mention in other contexts, it is also quite possible that your children will know more than you on lots of things to do with drugs. If that is so, acknowledge it, and work with it.
Talk about sex
For some reason most parents have real hang-ups when it comes to talking with their children about sex. Years ago I know that was caused by the fog and hang-ups created by religion, but for most parents these days that is no longer a good excuse. Of course it also needs to be acknowledged that many children think the idea of talking with their parents about sex is one of the grossest things they could possibly imagine.
But sex is a vital part of life, and can be vital to a happy life. Ignorance about key things in relation to sex can ruin a life. Therefore, in my view it is absolutely vital that your children should know a few basic things about sex, and the sooner the better once they get to a certain level of understanding.
As to when you should talk to your children about sex, I will deal with the easy situations first. There are 2 easy situations. First, if your children ever ask you anything about sex, you should do your best to answer their questions, and then take the opportunity to have the conversation I recommend in this subsection.
These days there is a good chance your children will have learned all of the basics about sex informally from their friends and formally at school, and most children will have actually witnessed intercourse on a screen somewhere by a pretty early age. But there can still be all sorts of gaps in their knowledge, and there can be a pretty big gap between screen sex and real life sex, plus there is lots of stuff that you can’t or won’t learn from friends, school or the screen, so it is important that your children have a source of reliable information to consult if they are ever confused about what they have seen, or have been told.
The second easy situation for starting a conversation about sex arises if you become aware that your child has a significant misunderstanding about something to do with sex. If that situation arises, and however it arises, I would urge you to take advantage of the opportunity to correct the misunderstanding, and then to segue into the conversation I recommend in this subsection.
So what do you do if your child is at an age when you think they should be armed with the information set out in this subsection, but no easy situation has arisen ? I recommend that you do your best to create circumstances that might give rise to the second easy situation.
Thus if you are listening with your child to a news broadcast and something is said that enables you to get your child’s views on a matter to do with sex, grab the opportunity. How out of touch am I ? Well, I’m thinking of being together with your child in a car, although having said that, a moving car is not a good place to have a conversation on sex. If the scenario I have just envisaged does happen in a moving car, note the relevant comment in your mind and then grab the next suitable opportunity to raise the topic.
If none of that advice is any good to you, I leave it to you to work out a way of raising the topic. There are (many) times when I am glad that I am not a parent.
Key messages to raise in conversations about sex include:
- no one should feel they have to have sex before they feel comfortable doing so
- sex should only occur by mutual consent, and should stop immediately if one of the participants asks for that to happen, regardless of when that request is made (by the way, that’s not only intended as civilised advice – it also describes the boundary where an innocent act becomes rape, a very serious criminal offence in every country)(also by the way, alcohol or drug-affected people cannot give consent)
- in most countries, it is not legal for those under 18 to have sex with anyone who is more than 2 years younger than them
- in most countries it is not legal for adults to have sex with anyone under 16
- sex should never involve pain – it should be stopped immediately if either participant indicates that they are in pain
- no one should have unprotected sex at any time unless, in the case of male/female sex, they are trying to have children
- it is the responsibility of each participant to make sure that any sex they have is protected – condoms are the most readily available form of protection, and, of course, they have the advantage that both participants can be sure that protection is being used
- condoms are not foolproof, but if used correctly they are fairly reliable – in that regard there is a right way, and a wrong way, to fit one (it’s as easy as making sure that there’s a good pinch of loose material at the tip when rolling it on)
- also, continuing on that theme, if using condoms you should always have some sort of lubrication handy (and lubrication is a useful thing to have handy in any event, as the key to enjoyable sex is good lubrication, but you may not want to go that far in your discussion)
- one of the most common ways of a condom “failing” is for it to come off fully while it is still in the vagina – to avoid having this happen, it is necessary to use a finger, or a finger and thumb, to press the base of the condom against the penis as the penis is withdrawn from the vagina after ejaculation (and this applies even if the penis is still hard)
- condoms are also a very useful way to avoid most sexually transmitted diseases – most sexually transmitted diseases can have some pretty horrible consequences, so any effort taken to avoid them is effort well spent (while there are medicines available to help treat most of these diseases, you are still in for a fairly rough ride before the medicines can help you, and the medicines may not be fully effective)
- having an unplanned child is a great way to ruin your life
- in male/female sex, having the male pull out before ejaculation is not a form of contraception/protection – it is almost a guaranteed way of having an unplanned child
- if the worst does happen, your children should see you as the first point of contact, and they should approach you as quickly as possible after something goes wrong, and you should make it clear that they should have nothing to fear in approaching you (and hopefully, it goes without saying that if you are approached in this circumstance your sole focus should be to help your child to do what is best for the person who is injured or pregnant (whether that is your child or not))
- masturbation is a completely natural activity that most adults, particularly males, engage in
- in the case of male/female sex or female/female sex, nothing (be it finger, penis, tongue, dildo or whatever) that has been inserted into an anus should be inserted into a vagina unless it has been thoroughly cleaned in the meantime – there are all sorts of germs and bugs in the anus that can cause all sorts of problems in the vagina
- alcohol and sex are a very bad potential combination that can lead to all sorts of unfortunate outcomes – in particular, alcohol inhibits the making of sensible decisions about safe sex, and often raises issues about consent.
Now, it might seem from this list that I am assuming that in talking about all of the above that parents are comfortable advising their children to have sex if they want. Not so. I know lots of parents who do not think that their children should have sex until they are married, or at least in a committed relationship. So if that is the case, why should a parent who has those views try to raise all of the key messages above ?
In a word, reality.
You, as a parent, cannot fully control what your children do once they hit their mid-teens (in the immortal words of Bob Dylan in his song Blowing in the Wind, by that stage your children are “beyond your command”). Sure, you can make your views on when it is appropriate for them to have sex crystal clear. But that doesn’t mean that your children won’t have sex whenever they want to.
So, my view is that the best thing for a parent to do is to try to make sure that their children know all of the important basics about sex, so that even if they don’t comply with your wishes, they will hopefully at least not do anything that is completely stupid or unsafe.
Oh, and what should you do if it seems like your child knows a whole lot more about sex than you seem to know ? If you think that’s impossible, I’m not sure that you’ve been keeping up with how our world is changing. In any event, I would still recommend that you try to check that your child is aware of all of the information in the key messages I have listed. If so, that shouldn’t be any skin off anyone’s nose, and if not, you have just increased the safety of your child.
(And I know that quite a number of the things I have raised are pretty icky, but that’s life in all its beauty and practicality.)(And I know there's way too much in my list to remember, so print it out, acknowledge that it comes from an old fogey, and go through it together.)
Sexual orientation/gender assignment
I note that talking about sex with your children might require you to confront the issue that your child is gay, or is not happy with the gender they have been assigned. That might be quite confronting. In that regard:
- Just in case the news hasn’t reached you, sexual orientation and gender identification is rarely a matter of choice – the weight of scientific belief is that it is what nature has ordained, either directly (genetics) or indirectly (genetics plus environment/circumstances). Even if it were a matter of choice, it is a choice that should always be respected, as to the extent that it can be controlled, it is a decision that every human is entitled to make for themselves. In the case of gender identification, if it is an issue, it is an issue because a mistake has been made that is not the fault of the person in respect of which it has been made.
- Given that we are talking about nature, gayness or particular gender identification is no one’s "fault”, especially yours as a parent.
- Apparently many gay children tend to realise at a fairly early age that they may be gay. If that is the case with your child, it is quite normal, so suggesting that they are too young to know is wrong as well as pointless.
- Sexual orientation and gender identification are issues in relation to which your children might really be struggling. You as a parent are in the best position to provide support to them, and it is an opportunity that you should feel privileged to take. That might not be your initial reaction, but if you think about it, I think you will quickly come around to that way of thinking. If not you, then who ? Sure, at the start of the process you won’t have a clue as to how you might be able to help, but just start by being as kind, supportive and non-judgmental as possible, and you might be surprised at how much good you can end up doing for your child.
- If there is a clash between the idea of your child being gay and your religious beliefs, you might want to re-visit those beliefs. I believe each major religion, and pretty much every branch of every major religion, now has senior practitioners who believe that gayness can be encompassed comfortably within their religion or branch, so if that is not the belief where you worship, you may need to find other spiritual counsellors in your religion or branch.
By the way, I note that almost all of the key messages listed above are relevant to whatever sexual orientation your child may have, and should be discussed in addition to what I have just mentioned.
Don’t know the answer ?
I may have also given the impression that every parent should be expected to be an expert on all things to do with sex. If so, I apologise. There are probably lots of things you don’t know about sex – it is actually a very large field of knowledge, and that’s just human sex. If your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, acknowledge that fact and offer to try to find the answer jointly with your child. Take advantage of the fact that we have the Internet these days. Sure, not everything on the Internet is reliable, but between you and your child I’m sure you’ll be able to find something that you both think is reliable enough.
Finally on this topic, all of the key messages I have listed above are basic health and safety messages. If you feel so inclined, you might want to take the messaging one step further, presuming that you have no hang-ups about your children having sex.
It is a very useful thing to stress that sex is a 2-way street, and that successful sex involves ensuring that both parties get enjoyment out of it. Thus each party should enter the experience with the mindset that they should do their best to ensure that the other party enjoys whatever they do. This advice might help your child to get a running start at the appropriate time, and might increase the size of the pool of partners who might be prepared to live with, or marry, them.
It might also be worth mentioning to your child that sex can become a pretty empty pretty boring thing pretty quickly unless those engaging in it have some sort of special feeling for each other. In fact having sex with someone you don’t have any feelings for is basically just a form of masturbation. I know, that’s beginning to stray into preachiness, but I still think that it’s a message worth trying to mention, as again it is something that might help your child at an appropriate time.
Feel free to blame me if you do get accused of preachiness.