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April 08, 2012, Sunday

Talking to children about adult topics

Yesterday, my children and I got into my car and as soon as I had started the engine, DEV’s scandalous song lyrics, “I got a sex drive just push to start,” came blaring out of the radio.

In shock from the outrageous song, I immediately reached to change the station. I pressed the button for the other station and bam: LMFAO was singing “I’m Sexy And I Know It.”

I was seriously frustrated and didn’t want to run the risk of coming across any other unwanted songs so I pressed the CD button. “Children’s World Classic Fairy Tales” came to life. Just as I was taking a big sigh of relief that I had eventually taken control of the delicate situation, my 7-year-old came up with a curious question: “Mom, what is sex?”

Here we go. Another shock in less than a minute. Even though it was all too much for me to handle, I think I was able to quickly find a decent answer.

“Sex means ‘gender,’ honey.”

He was still curious and tried to get some reassurance by asking, “Really?”

“Sure,” I said confidently.

“I don’t understand why sex is that important. I don’t understand why all the songs are talking about sex, mommy,” he said after a while.

I was speechless and honestly didn’t know how to respond. I cleared my throat to buy some time, tried to stay calm and then said: “Well, not all of them are talking about sex. There are lots of songs about many other things...”

I subsequently created a new game to find different grown-up (!) songs about various things as my kids had requested. Thanks to The Beatles for “Yellow Submarine,” “Octopus’s Garden” and many other beautiful songs to keep my little ones occupied and to forget the disgraceful moments of the sexy songs.

That day, in the end, our problem was -- temporarily -- solved. However, the bigger problem is still out there and getting even bigger, like a rolling snowball, every day. Today’s children in the US and all over the world are bombarded with sexuality in music, on television, in movies, video games and on the Internet. Some big-name fashion brands repeatedly use sexual imagery to advertise clothes to get youngsters’ attention on their products. Nowadays, children sing along with a singer’s seductive lyrics without knowing what they are saying; they laugh when movie characters kiss each other on the lips or use sexual gestures even in cartoons or PG-13 rated movies; and they adopt a sexy clothing style or the look of a pop star easily.

However, I believe too much exposure to sex at an early age confuses children while they still are making sense of what it means to be a “boy” or a “girl.” Children can be easily puzzled and over-encouraged by what they see and hear. Unfortunately, many parents tolerate it even if they see their children singing inappropriate songs, watching TV shows or movies not suitable for their age, surfing the Internet without parental guidance or playing inappropriate digital games. Apparently they assume that children will forget the sexual messages they receive from the media. Nevertheless, whether or not children understand the nuances of exactly what it is all about, they absorb all the unnecessary and inaccurate information about sex, and we really don’t know how this information will affect their behavior physically, emotionally and morally, today and in the future.

According to statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, as of February 2012, 13 percent of teens had had sex by the age of 15. Each year, almost 750,000 US women aged 15-19 become pregnant. Two-thirds of all teen pregnancies occur among 18 and 19-year-olds. In addition, young people aged 13-24 made up about 17 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in the US in 2008. I am not saying these numbers are a natural result of overexposure to sex at an early age; however, I cannot help but think that this exposure must be having some sort of effect.

Parenting in the 21st century is a challenging job and it’s hard to avoid toxic cultural surroundings. In a word, pop culture spells S-E-X, such a threatening factor in our daily lives. Thus, building a strong bond with our children is crucial in order to avoid any problems now and later because our children are the living messages we send to the future that we will not be able to see.

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