Sex education, until recently, was sensibly handled. Today, alas, sex education has been politicized. Instead of thinking about what children are ready to hear, parents are told to confront children with confusing information.
Planned Parenthood, for instance, is now disseminating sex education information to parents on how to discuss gender and sexual issues with preschoolers. This runs contrary to the sensible approach toward sex education that until now, has been the norm for explaining the birds and the bees. Parents would not bring up the subject of sex, but be prepared to honestly answer a child’s questions as they come up, answering only what the child asks, and no more.
The child is the guide. The child tells you what he or she is ready to hear about. This prevents a situation where a child is told about things that make him or her uncomfortable. This method of sex education also gives parents time to formulate an idea about what they will say when questions inevitably arrive: will I go very technical and use anatomical terms, or translate to child-speak (Daddy plants a seed in Mommy and God makes it grow)?
Planned Parenthood’s parenting and sex education section, on the other hand, encourages parents to look for teachable moments:
“Little kids notice, and sometimes comment on, everything. Your kid may notice another kid on the playground or in their preschool who has a different kind of family than them — a family with a different number of parents, or with grandparents raising kids, or with two moms or two dads, or any number of other situations.
“These observations are good teachable moments. Take a minute and explain to your kid that they’re right — what they’re noticing is different from your family — but that there’s nothing wrong with it, and that we can always be friends with people who are different from us. You’ll be steering your kid in the direction of respecting others as they grow up. It will also one day help them figure out the kind of family they want to build for themselves.”
This sex education method of looking for teachable moments and explaining things to children, giving them so many concepts at once, seems illogical and confusing. Instead of giving children the raw information they need to understand their world, it goes beyond and tells them how to think: “There is nothing wrong with this.”
That is the equivalent of media bias. Children should be given information at the time they ask for it and be left alone to puzzle out the rest on their own. That is how you teach children constructive thinking. Space and silence are prerequisites for thinking. Children deserve that space and silence, too. There is nothing good about being brainwashed.
If your child comes to ask about the gay couple in the park, you can give them the facts: this is a couple where both partners are men. You don’t need to say anything else at all. Unless the child asks further questions.
Children are seeking facts and it is our job to either provide those facts or point them to a source for the facts. Children respect and trust their parents to know and understand the things they do not. But children are also seeking reassurance. Sometimes they ask questions because they want reassurance. They want factual, calm answers to their questions. This is what makes their world stable.
Feelings are in unstable territory. Telling a child how to feel is wrong. That includes telling a child how to feel about minorities, homosexuality, or gender issues. It’s not only wrong to tell children how to feel (it’s actually wrong to tell anyone how to feel), it’s confusing to them. A case of too much information.
Telling children how to feel also prevents them from thinking about things and coming to independent conclusions. Our independent conclusions are real because we’ve come to them on our own. When we adopt others’ conclusions by rote, we have no way to explain why we feel as we do. Such “conclusions” are based on air.
But Planned Parenthood disagrees:
“Conversations about sex and masturbation not only give you an opportunity to share accurate information with your kid, they’re also an opportunity to talk about your values. Your values influence how you talk about it, so think ahead of time about what messages you want to send. It’s also a good idea to talk about these values with any co-parents or caretakers, so you’re all on the same page.
“For example, you might want to think about what you’re going to say about why people have sex — is it something people do when they’re in love? That grownups sometimes choose to do with each other? To feel good? To feel close to each other? To have a baby? All of these? Some but not others? At this age, you don’t have to go into detail about all of the complicated reasons people have sex. For now, it’s more about communicating what’s most important to you.”
This idea of sharing values is unnecessary and confusing. Children learn their parents’ values through example. If mommy puts a nickel in a beggar’s cup, smiles, and exchanges pleasantries, the child learns about true charity. The same is true of a parent’s values in other spheres. If parents speak lovingly toward each other, and with respect, the child learns to speak lovingly and with respect toward a spouse.
If it is a value to you to treat the LGBTQ community with extra kindness, your child will see this, too. No need to explain it or what it means. And if your child has a question, he or she will ask. Then you can answer in as few words as possible, using simple language, answering only what is asked.