Anyone raising kids during this pandemic is being stretched in every possible way. Parents now must add teacher, camp counselor and BFF and to their daily duties.
On the plus side, many families spending more and more time together are finding that their relationships have become closer and, in many ways, more meaningful. Working parents now have 60 hours each week of potential face time with their kids, bringing a new dimension to family life. This forced closeness can breed intimacy and current events have probably led families into a lot of conversations they might never have expected.
Now is the perfect time to add sexual health and safety to about the topic list.
Pre-adolescents are still open to their parents’ opinions and wisdom and will love the extra attention of a parent-initiated conversation. Even teens, who may try to brush their parents off like a fly on their ice cream cone, really listen, even when they seem to be trying not to. Research has shown that adolescents place more weight on their parents’ opinions than parents give them credit for.
The two things parents need to share with children of every age are accurate information about their bodies, and their family’s values.
Accurate information can come in many forms — with younger kids, we want to be ready to answer whatever questions they have resources like this booklet from the American Academy of Pediatrics can be a big help!
With older kids, parents can suggest websites like www.sexetc.org for accurate information, or leave a copy of a book like YOU: The Owner’s Manual for Teens: A Guide to a Healthy Body and Happy Life under their pillow.
Most important is helping a child understand that sexual arousal is an autonomic response. Understanding this fact can be key both in ensuring the child not confuse their own arousal for consent, and ensuring they know that no one else is responsible for causing or satisfying their arousal. You can read more about this and related concepts here.
The family’s values – everyone’s shared opinions about what’s right and wrong – is central to every meaningful discussion parents have with their kids. I’ve gotten great feedback from parents using the family values checklist with each other, and these same concepts can be discussed with kids.
You don’t have to look hard to find openings to discuss issues about sexual arousal and family values; TV is a great catalyst. From the crew hookups on Below Deck to Rory’s crushes in vintage Gilmore Girls episodes, parents have a great opportunity to highlight which behaviors fit in their values and which do not. Asking a child what they thought characters were doing, or why they were doing it, can start a great discussion, and cue a parent into what their child actually understands.
A family might want to get more formal and call a family meeting to consider rules for all being home together. Consider these topics:
Values concerning how everyone behaves inside the home; such as
- What everyone wears at home, but outside the bedroom, focusing on privacy, modesty and self-respect.
- How the kids want you to show affection. What do they like, and what makes them uncomfortable?
- Having friends over with doors open or closed. How can everyone be comfortable with the family’s values concerning privacy, secrets and trust?
And for when COVID-19 has passed;
- Kissing Relatives. How should your children respond to a request for affection if they would rather not, in ways they can be assured of their parents’ support?
In our expanded family time, parents can find a unique opportunity to strengthen their relationships with their children and work to promote their sexual health and safety. Eventually, the kids will all be back among their peers, and with your help they will be better prepared than ever for many of life’s challenges.
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent and The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children. For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.