The daughter of a friend of mine had just picked up her eight and ten-year-old children from swim team practice yesterday when news of the FBI Report on the Penn State Sexual Abuse Scandal came over the radio. The kids’ questions were instantaneous. “What are they talking about, Mommy? What’s sex abuse? What’s rape?” Oh, how she wished she’d had the good sense to turn off the radio before picking them up!

Janet Rosenzweig is a woman who understands the impact of these situations on parents, children, and the community. She served as executive director of Prevent Child Abuse New Jersey from 2001-2007. She also was a pick for Chris Christie’s cabinet in 2010, before withdrawing her nomination. I recently heard that she had published a book entitled The Sex-Wise Parent: The Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Family, and Talking to Kids About Sex, Abuse, and Bullying. I had never heard the term “sex-wise parent” before noting the title of her book; she’s come up with a smart term. Kevin Manahan’s article about her in the May 6, 2012 issue of the New Jersey Star Ledger includes an interview, and I’d like to share parts of it with you.

He says in the article that Janet preaches that “one of the best ways to protect children from sexual abuse is to have ‘the talk’ with them — or, more accurately, an ongoing conversation about sex… knowledge, especially at a young age, will teach children what’s appropriate and what isn’t, and if they’re abused, they’ll have the language to tell what’s happened.”

She urges today’s parents to educate themselves so that they have sufficient knowledge of the facts and comfort with the language, to naturally bring conversations about sex into their relationships with their kids whenever related issues come up. I think that’s an important point. The Sandusky scandal hit the news while we were away with several of our young grandchildren and a large TV was on in the restaurant we were eating at. There were no questions from the kids in this situation. A man dressed up like Santa Claus was seated at the table next to us and the kids couldn’t take their eyes off him. But my point is that mainstream media is not restricted to “the family hour.” How random was that, to be faced with such news in a restaurant while out with the grandkids? Kids are being bombarded with sex every day, in multiple ways, and their moms and dads need to help them with that.

Parents of today can’t simply rely on how things were when they were children, because the children of today are growing up in a highly sexualized culture. For example, another young mother recounted to me how her six-year-old daughter who was learning to read, was in the car with her one day as they drove by the local movie theater and her daughter read aloud the name of the movie that was playing: “Sex… and… the… City,” she said. “I know the words and, the, and city, Mommy, but I’m not familiar with that word, sex. What does it mean?”  This mother was wise enough to say, “I’m glad you asked me and I want to answer you, but that’s not a conversation to have right now while Mommy’s concentrating on driving.  Let’s get back to it when we’re home and can settle into a private conversation.” At home, she kept her promise. Did she feel some anxiety about doing so? Yes, she did; but she followed through anyway. It was the right thing to do.

It seems that parents have always had anxiety about talking to their kids about sex. I remember how nervous I was before reading my oldest daughter Peter Mayle’s Where Did I Come From? when she was six years old and I was mid-pregnancy with her baby sister. But kids grow up. They become preteens, teens, young adults. The issues become more personal. They become laden with multiple emotions, many of them intense, and they inform personal choices which, in turn, have multiple consequences.

I'd like to leave you with my favorite take-away from Manahan’s interview with Janet Rosenzweig, which occurred when he asked her,  “What about if even after reading all the material I’m still terrified to talk to my child about sex?” Her response? (and I love it!) “I often steal a line from Glee,” she said.  “A father was about to discuss sex with his reluctant son.  He says, ‘Sit down son. I’m uncomfortable, too, but we’ll both be better men for having had this conversation’.”

__________________________________________________________________________________: Please note: You may want to take a look at a blog I wrote last year about when and how to talk to your child about sexual abuse: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/overcoming-child-abuse/201006/how-an...

About the Author

Catherine McCall

Catherine McCall is a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and the author of Never Tell: A True Story of Overcoming a Terrifying Childhood.

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