Episode summary:

Susan speaks with Amy Lang of Birds + Bees + Kids about how to talk with kids about sex. The discussion addresses why kids need us to be a source of reliable information, how to establish more comfort in these important conversations, and how to handle kids and online porn. 

 

As a sex educator for over 25 years, Amy combined her love of sex talking and her love of working with families to start Birds + Bees + Kids in 2006. Amy’s books include Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids – A Guide To Sharing Your Beliefs About Sexuality, Love and Relationships and Say What?! The Birds + Bees for Progressive Parents – What to Say and How to Say It! She has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Seattle Magazine, Parent Map magazine and many others. https://birdsandbeesandkids.com/

Things you’ll learn from this episode:

 

  • Getting over awkward feelings about discussing sex
  • How to start kids on a road toward healthy attitudes about sex
  • What to do if you’re child has viewed porn

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Transcript:

Speaker 1:

Hello and welcome to the Parenting Without Power Struggles podcast. I’m your host, Susan Stiffelman. I’m a marriage and family therapist and I’m the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles and Parenting with Presence. And I’m so glad that you’re here. My guest today is Amy Lang and we’re going to be talking about how to talk to kids about sex. First though I want to just share a little bit of information. For those of you who are interested in what we’re up to in the Parenting Without Power Struggles community, you can visit SusanStiffelman.com. You’ll find so many resources there including the list of masterclasses I’ve offered in the past on chores and homework and highly sensitive kids and even a class that Amy and I did together. Remember that Amy and I do. It was fun. We went into a lot of depth. You’ll also be able to sign up for a free newsletter and you can get info on our monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles support group where I gather with parents twice a month to answer questions and offer coaching.

Speaker 1:

And if you use coupon code Podcast19, your first month, it’ll just be a dollar, so there’s a lot of resources for you at SusanStiffelman.com. I hope you’ll check it out. I hope you’ll just sign up for our free newsletter and stay in touch. But let’s get started. My guest today is Amy Lang. Amy is a sexual health educator, has been for over 20 years and she helps parents of all beliefs talk with kids of any age about the birds and the bees. Amy’s the author of the award winning book, Birds Plus Bees Plus Your Kids and Dating Smarts. Our online solution center and our podcast help parents learn how to talk to their kids about this important and awkward part of life. Amy is still married to her first husband and they’re getting the hang of parenting, their teenage son.

Speaker 1:

She lives in Seattle and you can find out more about Amy and her work at https://birdsandbeesandkids.com/ . Hi Amy. Hi. Ready for the sex talk? Yes. Excellent. And now that we’ve taught together, I’m a little bit more prepared for how amazingly comfortable you are and forthright you are, which really I think models for parents how they can be of course, depending on their temperament as they approach the subject. So how can parents get over their discomfort about talking with kids about sex and why should they? It’s like, great question. Actually no one ever asked me that really in that direct way. So thank you. So let me start with the why and then we’ll talk about the how. So the reason pit parents need to try

Speaker 2:

To recover or stop being uncomfortable from about this topic is because at the end of the day, at the very end of the day, this is all about your children’s health. It’s about their sexual health. And we have every other part of being human covered. And you know, in child development covered, we know like what they need to grow and what kind of food they should be eating. And we know how to help them talk about their emotions and you know, everything, right. All those parts of being human and their sexual health is something that we just don’t think or talk about. And I get it. It’s uncomfortable, but it is one of the parts of being human that is with us like our entire lives. And it’s something that is a huge part of our lives. You know, I’m still married to my first husband having sex as part of our life, right?

Speaker 2:

Like, it’s a process. You know, as kids learn about sexuality and as kids sexual sexuality develops, it doesn’t start like, I mean, I wish we could flip on a white light switch and then everybody would be good to go, but that’s not how it works. So kids are sexual from the beginning. We need to learn and understand and grow with them in terms of how they’re going to develop in this way because it will keep them safer. It will keep them healthier. And, you know, I think we all want our kids to have really great relationships. So what about the awkward part? Well, the awkward part is kind of the hardest part and it’s awkward and uncomfortable. For a variety of reasons. Most of us did not have good examples or any example of how to talk to a kid about sex.

Speaker 2:

So we’re kind of making it up. A sexuality, especially in American culture is something that is really kind of secret and shameful and not something that is regularly talked about anyway. So there’s, we’re kind of carrying that along. We have our own experiences of sexuality and relationships. We’re packing that along. So it’s, there’s a ton of stuff happening just internally for us that of course makes us feel uncomfortable. And part of that discomfort is because we look at our kids and we’re like, dear Lord, I have to talk to you about sex and everything we know about sex pops up into our heads. Right? So the first time we had sex, the last time we had sex, you know, just even talking about to our kids about sex. Like, we will come to come to the party with this massive amount of information, relatively speaking. And we look at our sweet, sweet child and we think, Oh, no way, no way. I’m not going to talk to you about this,

Speaker 1:

But we need to. And you know, I think it would be helpful prepares to here starting with a young child, how we paved the way for greater comfort and more ease, recognizing that they don’t need to hear everything we know about sex in that first conversation. And so what are some suggestions for how to sort of begin down that path so that as our child gets older and has more complicated questions, we’re already kind of there already more comfortable with how it’s going to go.

Speaker 2:

So the very, very first place we should start is with the correct names for private body parts. It’s super simple. And it sets the stage because, you know, when we use euphemisms, when we say tinkle waggle or front bottom and back bottom and, and say things like that, we’re telling our kids, there’s something different, strange unusual about that part of our body. You know, we don’t, you know, call our noses our smelters, right? It’s just our nose. And so that’s the very first conversation. And that conversation can happen when your baby’s tiny. I’m wiping the poop off from your testicles. Like we can say those things to kids and they need to know the correct names. And you know, that is one of the places where lots of parents are uncomfortable. But one of the things that I think helps is that talking about sexuality and using the correct names for PRI private body parts is actually protective.

Speaker 2:

Because if a child can say, you know uncle creepy touched my vulva you’re going to get a lot of attention. Like that’s gonna that you’re going to do something about that. But if a child says like to her teacher teacher uncle touched my cookie, then the teacher’s not going to know what’s going on. Right? They’re going to think cookie. They’re not gonna think. Well that, and so part of it is protective and you know, I get it. I mean, I, you know, parents are uncomfortable with this and that’s usually because of how we were raised, but they have a right to know the correct names for their private body parts. And once they know them, then that’s makes everything else easier because if you’re not having to back up the track and say, well, 12 year old, that’s actually not called your hoohah, that’s called your vulva and your vagina. It’s, it’s easier on us.

Speaker 1:

So what did kids wish their parents knew about their need for trustworthy, reliable information? What do they wish they could turn to their parents to find out or how they might approach them to get more reliable information than there than the kid on the bus might have to share?

Speaker 2:

Well, really one of the easiest ways to answer this question is just to ask yourself like, what did you need to know? What was missing from your sexual education? Like did you have someone to talk to that was trustworthy? Did you have enough information before you became sexually active or even went on your first date? And you know, kids today need the same exact things. Our world is definitely different. You know, I’m 52 and so things have definitely changed, but when it comes to the sexual sexuality information, everybody basically needs the same stuff. And so if you’re a, if you didn’t get the information you needed until you were in a high school, then that’s a problem. So your kid needs to get it sooner. And you know, we all we all kind of come to this conversation with the same you know, set of tools, which usually is only about two and a half.

Speaker 2:

And we all have the kind of the same, you know, experience of discomfort and all that. But, you know, when you think about like reflecting back what would have helped you, what would have been better for you? You can do that for your kid. It’s a great place to like temperature take and then figure out what’s needed. And then the other place to see just to kind of to get this information or to figure this out is just to look at our teen pregnancy rates in the United States. We are still number one in the developed world for teen pregnancy. And then so that tells us something, right? When it comes to sex and pleasure this is something that most of us didn’t get a message about. Most of us got the don’t get pregnant, don’t get STEs, don’t get HIV. Instead of sex. Feels great. It’s super fun. It’s a wonderful way to connect with your partner. Yeah, there’s some things that can happen like pregnancy and you can get sexually transmitted infections. But first and foremost, sex is about pleasure and taking responsibility. And you know, I think everyone would do, have done better. I would have done better if that had been my like core message. And if I had had somebody to talk to and ask questions and more importantly was just giving me the information.

Speaker 1:

That’s fantastic. So the big question a lot of parents in mind, and one of the things you and I covered a lot in the birds and bees in the online world class that we did together was porn. That kids are now expose at increasingly younger ages to images and videos and all kinds of things that parents don’t really know how to manage. What do you have to say about parenting kids in this age of access to so many developmentally inappropriate sources of information that may pull them in? And I, you know, again, if parents want to go deeper into this, they can look at Susan Stifel and not calm for the class, but, but share some with, with those who are listening about that topic because it’s, it’s really a big one.

Speaker 2:

It is a really big one. I actually just surveyed my newsletter list and it was the number one thing. Parents were worried about 10% over how to keep the conversation going. So it’s a, it’s on everybody’s mind. So first of all, the number one thing you can do for your kids is make sure they have solid fact and evidence-based values and beliefs based information about what sex is. And that is the most important thing you can do for them. And when they have that healthy information, that accurate information, they feel better. They’re less likely to go to go seek, to look out, seek, seek out pornography. And they’re also, you know, more likely to go look at a book that you, that’s a trustworthy resource for your family and for your child. So that’s the most important thing for you to do. And what that does for them is it puts it in perspective and lessons or curiosity.

Speaker 2:

So just so y’all know, average age kids see porn is somewhere somewhere around 10. It’s hard to know because of the way kids report. So it’s super, super early. Lots of kids are exposed at a much younger age and it usually happens accidentally. And so the other thing that needs to happen is that you have to have monitoring software like meet circle.com is great. And a and parents will controls and lock those devices down because your kiddo Google’s boobs and they’re going to find boobs, right? I had a family, a couple come in for consultation and their daughter had Googled horses and made her way to, as they said, bad seventies porn and they had monitoring software and that’s how they found out this happened. So, you know, we’re, our heads are in the sand about this cause everyone thinks not my kid.

Speaker 2:

And sure maybe not your kid. And most kids don’t get don’t have porn overuse. Like they see it and they might look at it a few times and then they’re like, okay, that’s gross. And they stopped watching. But some kids do get hooked on it and watch it compulsively. And you know, we really want to make sure that they don’t have an opportunity to head down that road. And parents, you know, this idea like, Oh, my kid would never, it’s just not true. It happens accidentally. Think about it like a seatbelt, right? You never put your, you wouldn’t put your infant in the car seat in a car without a car seat, right in the back seat. Three month old, good luck back there. Like remember how that works there in the little bucket thing and then they’re rear facing and then the forward facing and then they got the booster and they got the bigger car seat, they got the booster and now we’re all in seatbelts. So we have to think about the internet in the same way. And you know, pornography is super scary. It’s creepy, it’s weird and can be really upsetting to children. It can be sexually abusive and you know, kind of back to that health thing, like it is our responsibility to make sure our kids are healthy and safe. And that includes the whack, you know, the whack ass and terrible world of porn. It’s not going to go away. It’s not going to go away.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. And it’s also possible that with all those measures in place, your child may see something on a kid’s phone, on the bus or at somebody’s house. The big brother, you know, finds it quite amusing to show his little brother and his buddies something that will get a real reaction and, and elicit some shocks. So let’s just say a few things before we rack up. Wrap up about how parents can hold a space for their children if they have been exposed to something so that the kids don’t compound the experience by feeling shame or guilt or any of those icky feelings on top of already trying to get some help or needing help processing what they [inaudible].

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I think the very first thing is that if you find out your child has been exposed to pornography you have to be kind there. You can’t shame them or yell at them, especially if you have not taken steps to make sure that they’re protected online. It is not their fault that the, if you, if you don’t have monitoring software or parental controls on your devices, your child sees porn. It is not your child’s fault. The person who should be in trouble and yelled at is you. So the first thing is be be as calm as you can be, be as calm, be kind to them. Usually the exposure’s accidental. So you know, hold that in your, you know, hold that in your head, in your heart. When you talk to them, you know, ask them how they’re feeling. Remind them that, you know, that’s not real sex, that they’re actors.

Speaker 2:

It’s kind of like their pee that they are you know, kind of, this is a terrible analogy, but they’re like, you know, like superheroes are not real. Same with these folks. Like they’re being paid. People’s real bodies don’t look like that. People don’t look like that when they’re having real sex. And then talk about how you know, uncomfortable and upsetting it can be to see something like that. And you know, not every kid that’s exposed needs therapy. So some of them are okay with it. And again, the kids that are, are well-informed with the healthy stuff there. They do, they manage it and they’re much better able to manage it cause they have a context like, Oh, this is sex. This is adult stuff. It’s not for kids to look at. And of course they’re also grossed out. So that’s also helpful. But don’t, yeah, I mean just back to that thing, no child should be punished if they are exposed to pornography. It is not their fault. It’s not that kid’s fault.

Speaker 1:

Thank you. Thank you. Such a great conversation and there’s about a hundred different spinoffs we could go in, but I’m glad that we got to cover some of these big topics because you know what parents through this podcast to really educate themselves to expand their awareness, to learn and continue to grow and consider, you know, all the different areas where we can make our lives better and closer and sweeter and healthier for our children. So Amy, you’re wonderful. Thank you. How can people find out more about your work?

Speaker 2:

Oh, thank you. I always love talking to you by the way. So my website, https://birdsandbeesandkids.com/, there are a bunch of book recommendations there and that is the easiest way to start the sex talk go. So go check those out. And then my podcast is called just say this and I answer questions. Folks can just call in, leave me a voicemail and then I’ll answer the question on the show.

Speaker 1:

That’s fantastic. Great. Okay. Amy Lang. Yay. So everybody, thanks for listening. I’m so glad you’re here. We love growing our community and sharing. Interesting, fascinating, smart, cool, funny, wise people with all of you like Amy. Remember that you can visit Susanstiffelman.com to join our newsletter to get updates on classes to see the already published classes that are there on all kinds of different topics. And if you want to try our monthly Parenting Without Power Struggles membership program, use coupon code Podcast19 in your first month will just be a dollar and you’ll get all kinds of personal guidance and support in a great community. So thanks for listening. Thanks for being part of the conversation. I look forward to joining you on our next episode and meanwhile, remember that no matter how life gets, look for those moments of sweetness and joy. I’ll see you next time.

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