[Cue the infamous Salt-N- Pepa song]
While the majority of my current clients are adults, in my early years as a therapist I worked primarily with children and teens. More times than I can recall I was asked about whether or not parents should try to limit their child’s exposure to sexual material. “Should I let them read_______________?” “They are 13 but PG-13 movies contain adult themes…should we stick to rated PG?” At the time, I can remember popular fads like the Twlight books and the subsequent movies ruffling the feathers of more than one concerned caregiver. I admit that some of the themes in that series somewhat surprised me. I specifically recall a scene where the female lead wakes up with bruises from a rough sexual encounter with her husband. The short explanation for her injuries was that basically her loving beau didn’t realize his own strength…Oopsie!? Cue my therapist brain immediately thinking about the domestic violence parallel. With that said, my advice to adults that want to shield their younger counterparts from risqué content may surprise you. My vote is to embrace the content and make the most of it. Sex is seemingly everywhere. Trying to completely shield your small human from grown up topics is a losing battle… so work smarter, not harder.
Let’s examine the current climate. Turn on the radio and what will you find? Songs laced with sexual innuendos and at times even graphic verbal depiction of body parts and intimate activities. Take Taylor Swift as an example. When I mentioned turning on the radio to find suggestive lyrics, I bet you didn’t think of her. She’s worshiped by kids, tweens, teens and adults alike but even some of her lyrical content has parents questioning the appropriateness of that recent iTunes purchase. Here’s an excerpt from her song “Better Than Revenge”:
“She’s not a saint and she’s not what you think. She’s an actress, whoa. She’s better known for the things that she does on the mattress, whoa.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think she’s referring to sitting in bed, binging on Netflix. Now I’m not saying that if your 5 year old asks you what T-Swift is referring to that you should tell her that she is referencing promiscuous activity. Personally, I’d tell that tiny tot Taylor might be referring to eating cookies in bed…something you should never do because it leaves crumbs everywhere, which obviously isn’t very cool. There’s also the handy question reversal approach: “Hmmm…good question. What do YOU think she is talking about?”
However, if your 11 year old asks you the same question, use it as an opportunity to engage in an open dialogue. Adolescents are naturally interested in sex; They are discovering their bodies and attempting to navigate an explosion of hormones in a culture that capitalizes on sexuality in magazines, billboards, social media, TV commercials, movies, books, radio and more. Needless to say, they need our help figuring out what healthy sexuality is and what loving relationships look like in real life. According to the research, most people indicate that they learned about sex from their peer group. Children educating other children about the birds and the bees leaves a lot to be desired. I doubt many adolescents can describe true intimacy, let alone understand what it is supposed to feel like and how one goes about attaining it. Like it or not, your child has easy access to sexual material. It’s important that as adults we do our part to ensure information is accurate. So, the next time you hear a questionable lyric, instead of changing the radio station— start a conversation.