Good Life

Communities That Care: Talk to your children about sexuality, relationships

An original post on the blog Free-Range Kids stated, “Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts — safety! We just do not believe that every time school-age kids go outside, they need a security detail.”

I couldn’t agree more. I wrote “The Sex-Wise Parent” because I believe sharing values, information and language about sexuality with kids is as important as buying that helmet or car seat. If a child takes off on his bike and encounters a family friend, parents can make sure the child knows exactly what to do if that person’s hands end up in the wrong place. Equally important, if your child encounters a group of kids bullying or harassing a peer, she must know how to respond and control her own normal childish impulses when no adults are around to set rules.

Certainly, there are dangers in any community. The pedophiles I interviewed for my book told me — in no uncertain terms — they look for unaccompanied children. Is this a reason to turn into a helicopter parent? Absolutely not. In fact, the most authoritative research in child sexual abuse concludes, “strangers make up the smallest group of perpetrators”; the majority of risk involves people known to the child or family, often highly regarded, trusted people who seem beyond reproach.

Any child old enough to ride his or her bike to the playground is also old enough to be given accurate information about male and female sexual anatomy and physiology along with the risks of talking to strangers. Too often, friendly-seeming predators successfully elicit involuntary physical responses in a victim, leaving victims vulnerable to believing they were complicit.

Children should understand how to set and hold boundaries and know they must share with their parents the details of all adult interactions. While it’s dangerous to jump to conclusions from any single interaction, parents should be aware of every adult in their child’s life and draw their own informed conclusions.

Giving your children information about sex requires a different skill set than providing them well-fitting bike helmets. When it comes to providing a child with tools about sexual health and safety, parents are the best source of information. It’s not easy and it may be uncomfortable, but find the courage to talk to your child and explain what you want him to know. The benefits are lifelong.

And don’t stop at sharing knowledge and information — share what you believe! Your kids want and deserve to know what you think about sexuality, and relationships in general.

Free range or not, children need language and information about sex and a deep understanding of boundaries (theirs and others) to help keep them sexually safe and healthy. We will explore these issues and more during my Straight Talk session at 7 p.m. April 21 at Mount Nittany Middle School.

Free-rangers believe in “common sense parenting in uncommonly overprotective times.” All parents should consider language, knowledge and family values about sex and relationships as important parts of their definition of common-sense parenting.