Sex: You need to talk about it with your kids – Julie Hahn

One of the mothers of our Year 7 class was teaching her daughter about sex. Every lunch time her daughter gave us a little bit more information.  We listened, snickered and stuck our noses up in the air, as Year 7 girls tend to do. We made remarks such as ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Nobody would ever do that!’

I got the job of going home to ask my mother to validate the latest gory details. After all, my mum was a nurse for three months, so she must have known something about sex. So I’d go home, ask her direct questions and receive direct answers. And I’d report back to the girls.

Whether mum figured out that there was a whole class-full of girls clinging to her every word, I’m not sure. But I’m glad she was open enough to answer questions.

There were no books available to our family back then. Any book that might have been useful in the school-library had been coloured in by a censor. No wonder the kids of the day thought you had to be a doctor or nurse to know about sex.

When our own children were little, things were much different. The impending birth of our son when the kids were 5, 6 and 8 years old gave us a fantastic opportunity to give information in a matter-of-fact way.

We found some books that were helpful, especially our favourite called ‘Who made me?’ by Malcolm and Meryl Doney, and illustrated by Nick Butterworth and Mick Inkpen. ‘Who made me?’ had simple language, cute pictures and analogies that the kids could relate to: bits that fitted together like jigsaw puzzle pieces, and fruit and vegetables that illustrated the size of the baby as it grew inside mum’s tummy.

Sex was described as the most fun game that mummies and daddies can play. This book spoke about sex as a beautiful gift within the context of marriage…Bonus! That gave us the opportunity to place a lock on our bedroom door – and explain to our kids that if the lock was in operation, we might be playing that game so, best for them to leave us alone.

We also had the opportunity to accompany our children to sex-ed nights at school. The guest speakers gave the audience the facts about anatomy and physiology.  Then they directed each child to ask their parent who was sitting next to them ‘In your family, what do you call this bit?’

These were informative nights that answered the questions that most children ask, and most parents get embarrassed about. We liked them – apart from the question-time at the end, where we would hope and pray that it was not our child who put up their hand to ask more questions that embarrassed parents.

Our youngest had a different up-bringing to his older siblings, largely because issues that the others were dealing with were often discussed quite freely around the dinner table. The girls were having a discussion about periods one night while I kept trying to change the subject. Acknowledging defeat I asked their little brother, as casually as I could, if he knew what periods were. His answer… ‘When girls get grumpy!’

In our church we have a resource library for parents, available to the whole community. One of the resources available is a cd called ‘The Big Weekend’. Produced by the parenting place.com it is specifically designed for parents and their child (aged about 11 years old) to play in the car’s cd drive while they go for a weekend trip.

‘The Big Weekend’ talks about sex and other issues that kids may face, such as self-esteem, bullying, sexuality and depression.

It’s really engaging and is presented in a way that is non-threatening for either parent or child and invites discussion through its use of humour. Chris took Noah on a ‘Big Weekend’ and they found it great. It enhanced their relationship and gave them some great memories that they can share together.

As our kids faced senior school, each of them came home with stories about class-mates who were pregnant. Too often, these young people were from devoutly religious homes. I’ve read books that tell Christian parents to use a flower as the way to teach their adult child about sex … and that’s it!  No other information offered!

If Christian parents can’t recognise that God has given us the gift of sex for our marriage relationship, and pass that on to our kids, who will?  If we feel too embarrassed to speak about sex with them, they will find out in other ways – and the results can be traumatic. Knowing about sex and practicing protective behaviours keeps our kids safer, and gives them the vocabulary to talk about it if ever necessary.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’.

‘There’s no such thing as ‘values-free sex education’*. People usually learn the values that are associated with sex from the context in which they learn about sex. If people learn about sex behind the school shed; in the context of sexual abuse; in a marriage or relationship where sex is expected but not explained; from lobby groups who have their own agendas; or more than likely from television, movies and the internet, they will also take on board the values with which it is presented.

Is what the kids see on MTV the way we would like them to look at their sexuality?

If we as parents teach about sex, we earn the right to teach our values.

If we are too shy to speak about sex, do we have the right to expect our children to adhere to our values. Or do we think that they will know our values by a simple process of osmosis?

In the context of sexuality in our world, future generations will need to be able to communicate clearly and openly about sex among other issues. How can Christians ever be invited to take part in open, frank, respectful conversations about marriage, relationships and sexuality if they are perceived as never talking about sex?

The most powerful mechanism by which we can change that perception is by parents being open with their kids.  Parents need to intentionally pass on their values openly, frankly and respectfully, in word and through modelling behaviour.

As parents we have the privilege of being able to influence our children’s attitudes to sex. Whether we are embarrassed or shy doesn’t take away our responsibility to teach our children about sex and the values we have about it. After all, if we don’t, somebody else will.

 

Previously published as ‘Bye-Bye Birds and Bees’ in The Lutheran magazine, 2012.  

*The Parenting Place

 

Year 12 Survival Hints for Families

It was past 10.30 pm in the middle of the week. Our daughter was in Term 3 of Year 12. She probably should have been sleeping, but there was a meltdown.

The cause? An essay that needed to be handed in the next day, and an empty page in front of her.  

How many marks do you need to pass?’ I asked her.

‘Well, this is the third part of a three-part assignment. I finished the others weeks ago.’

When we averaged out how much she had already received for the other two sections, we worked out that in order to pass this assignment, she needed to achieve only about 20 per cent: two out of ten.

‘It seems to me that if you put your name and about three sentences on this assignment, you could achieve 2 out of 10. So, anything more than that is a bonus. Do you think you could do that?’

She looked at me, stunned. ‘Are you serious? Would that really be okay with you?’

‘Would that be okay with you is the more important question. If getting fantastic marks is keeping you from finishing, perhaps you need to relax a little and just do it. I reckon you can get 20 per cent. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.’

I went off to bed, but not before I’d received a big hug and saw her contentedly sitting on her bed, typing away on my laptop. Next morning she told me that she had finished in about 40 minutes. And several weeks later, she said, ‘I got my essay back, Mum. I got 86 per cent.’

Somebody has said, ‘When a child does Year 12, the whole family does Year 12.’ We agree!

We’ve now survived four of our kids doing Year 12. Anybody else who’s had a Year 12 in their house probably understands what I mean by ‘survived’. We thought that third time round it should be a breeze. We were wrong. Thankfully, by the fourth child, we’d relaxed somewhat. 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get caught up in the storm when our kids are struggling with deadlines and the pressure of Year 12. But what can we do to keep the whole family sane?

Here are some things we’ve learnt.

Try to keep Year 12 in perspective.

Year 12 is one year out of a life-expectancy of 80-plus years. Yes, a great score enables our kids to get into their first choice of university courses. But there are all sorts of detours that they can take to eventually achieve the same goal.

What makes people ultimately employable is not their Year 12 score.  Developing people skills, playing in a sports team or participating in a group, as well as working on stickability, perseverance, creativity and using initiative are attributes every person can achieve, regardless of academic ability.

Keep our own lives balanced.

Only then can we help our teens balance their lives. Help them to see the value of maintaining a balance between the mental, physical, spiritual and social aspects of our lives.

Get to know the teachers at the beginning of the year

and keep in touch with them. Teachers work better with parents who encourage and are interested, and want to work with them.

Let the teachers know your tricks for motivating your child. For example, kids often respond better if you speak their love language: Are words of encouragement their best aid to learning? Do they prefer spending quality time with others in order to get their work done or might they benefit by time alone in the library? Does physical touch such as big bear hugs or rigorous activity help them? Do they learn through doing things for others or really appreciate others doing things for them? Do they respond to rewards and gifts as simple as stickers? (Don’t ask me how I know this!)

Use incentives

Make handing in assignments and essays worthwhile in the student’s eyes—for example: ‘Once you’ve finished that assignment, why don’t we go to that movie you wanted to see’.

Give them the opportunity to see where a good score might take them. Encourage them to speak to other adults in different occupations and explore opportunities for work experience.  University open days can also be inspirational for students who are struggling to see the point of studying. They demonstrate careers that our kids (and we) may never have dreamed of.

Let your young person know you’re interested.

Know their schedule. Get them to post their weekly school schedules and assignment due-dates on a family calendar, or print out a copy of their diary – so that you don’t plan a camping trip the day before an assignment is due. (Don’t ask me how I know this one, either).

Remember that you are the adult

You might need to monitor their time management. Plan rest days or weekends in which nothing is happening. Practise a weekly ‘Sabbath’ with them – that means to consciously have a day of rest – with no homework and a complete break from school-life.

Encourage part-time jobs, but not too much!

Part-time jobs help them to see the bigger picture, learn responsibility and accountability. The teachers at our local school have learnt that those who do well work part-time jobs six hours a week or less.

Be on the same page.

If your child wants to achieve, watch for ways to help.

If your child is hoping just to finish, encourage them to hand in all their assignments.

If your child has no intention of studying, it’s no use nagging—although it may help to give them a reality check if you encourage them to get a job and let them manage their own finances. That way they can find out how tough it is to pay for things on a low wage.

Some things you might try: Keep them supplied with healthy snacks and a walking partner. Sit with them while they study and help underline passages, or copy out charts that they need to learn by rote and post them all over the house (especially in the loo). Be a sounding-board – but remember that any expression of frustration is not a personal attack.

In our home, Year 12’s were exempt from doing the dishes. That was a small way that the rest of the family could let the Year 12 know that we supported them.

Be aware of different learning styles.

Recognise your student’s need for suitable study conditions. Some people need bright light and open areas in order to study, while others need dim light. Some need to have noise around them. One of our children found it useful to go babysitting for friends so that she could study there undisturbed. Mozart has been known to enhance concentration. Other music could be left for relaxation time.

 

Life may be tough during Year 12. The less pressure we apply and the more available we are as parents, the better it will be for the students in our lives. By encouraging our students to keep at it, balancing school life with a healthy lifestyle and maintaining friendships, and not too much computer/screen time, we can create positive memories of Year 12—hopefully for the whole family.

 

Originally published as ‘Year 12 Survival Guide for Parents’ in The Lutheran, 2012 August edition. http://www.thelutheran.com.au

 

School Daze: Settling into School Life

‘Mrs Hahn, I didn’t think this would happen in your family!’

I can still hear the words of our principal when my child (who shall remain nameless) threw their body down onto the ground in the middle of the school driveway, arms and legs flailing, refusing to walk home.

I had decided that it would be good exercise to walk home with my child after their first day at school. When I think about it, that probably wasn’t one of my better ideas.

Though eventually enjoying school, each of my children struggled with the stresses and strains at the beginning. One cried from separation anxiety—made worse by their mother hanging around to try to calm the hysteria. Another asked to be dropped off at the kerb so they could walk up to the school alone — only to return to the car to ask us to open the very heavy front door of the school.

At the end of the first day, from more than one child we heard, ‘There’s no point going anymore. I didn’t learn how to read or write.’

What I learnt in the process of beginning four children in three different schools I’ve shared with other mums and dads who have all said, ‘It’s so nice to know that it’s normal!’

Hints for beginning school that I’ve learnt so far:

  • Beginning school is tiring for all concerned: A more regulated structured day, as well as little bodies and brains that struggle to keep up with each other’s demands, is much more than we can expect of anybody without experiencing some teething problems.
  • Little bodies that are beginning school need lots of rest, lots of love and lots of energy replenishment.
  • Learning, making new friends, trying new things and growing is hard work. So it’s important to plan your child’s day so that she can rest and ‘chill out’ after school and replenish energy.

Our family found it helpful to have a supply of yummy, easy-to-eat, healthy snacks in the car, to restore a little energy supply and get us home without too many tears. Another family I know walked home with picnic food, stopping at a playground along the way to eat, rest, play and relax.

A comfy chair or bed at home, and having ready a supply of favourite storybooks and a milkshake or smoothie for the children to sip while I cuddled and read to them became a safe haven for them (and me) for the first few weeks of school. It also helped to create great memories by giving them devoted time to share the joys and frustrations of their day.

  • It’s worthwhile to resist ‘play dates’, extra-curricular sports and other activities after school until little bodies have become used to the increased demands of school.

In our family, we decided to plan that we had specific nights of activities, and other nights of rest. We also restricted each child to one sport or physical activity such as gymnastics or ballet at a time, and one musical instrument. It’s not only exhausting for kids to be taxi-ed all over the district, but also exhausting for their parents. 

  • Sticking to familiar and established routines such as baths, bedtime stories and prayers helps children to settle and relax for a good night’s sleep, and helps them to have control, knowing that not all of life has changed.

Many schools adjust their schedules for school beginners by having a mid-week day off, having shorter days for the first few weeks or having naps during the afternoon. If you feel that your child needs an occasional ‘early moment’ and would benefit from an afternoon nap, don’t be afraid to negotiate with the teacher to pick him up at lunchtime:

  • Keeping in touch with the teacher is about the best investment you can make, as far as their education goes. 
  • After school is not the best time to go shopping!           
  • After the excitement of beginning school wears off, many children come to realise that they are stuck there!

Be prepared for the end of the honeymoon period. Anticipate ‘tummy aches’, sore heads and sore toes (even if imagined, all of these are very real to your child) and have suitable strategies planned. While being sympathetic and loving, it is also possible to be matter-of-fact and deal with the situation confidently and appropriately. In our home we have often used the same strategy I learnt from my mother: ‘I’m sorry you’re not feeling well. You obviously need some more rest. Why don’t you go back to sleep? I’ll pull the curtains and make sure it’s quiet and dark so you can sleep. I’ll check to see how you are going later on.’

Importantly, the child needs to know she is taken seriously. If she is genuinely sick or needing to catch up on sleep, she’ll soon be back to sleep, and it will become obvious in other ways that there is a genuine illness. However, if the ‘sickness’ is her strategy to stay home, a morning in bed resting without television, games or books is very likely to inspire a quick recovery by recess time. And sometimes, little bodies just need to have a rest.

  • We found that celebrating ‘getting bigger’ helped our children to accept the changes more readily; by going on special weekend dates alone with Mum or Dad; having extra responsibilities, such as helping with the shopping by using the shopping list; or even being able to stay up a little later than younger siblings.
  • Remember that there is definitely somebody out there (probably at your school) whose child has outperformed your child’s tantrum.

Registering discontent is normal and healthy — it even seems to be part of a 4–6-year-old’s job description. It does not mean you are a bad parent, but it does give you the prompting to learn new strategies as your child grows.

Listen to your child. Ask how they feel and acknowledge their feelings as important. Avoid asking ‘WHY?’* Instead, ask something like ‘What happened?’

*’Why’ is a tricky question to answer if you’re a child because it opens up many more questions – and you can get into trouble for not answering the right way, or according to the adult’s expectation.

  • Your child’s teacher will be able to reassure you about particular behaviours you may be worried about and can also suggest ways you can work together to help your child to settle into school life.

If you speak with other more experienced parents you may also be reassured that your child is not the main contender for the Academy Award for melodrama!

 

Originally published as ‘School Daze’ in The Lutheran, February edition, 2008.