Monday, September 05, 2011

Talk to your children

I live in a conservative state. Sometimes I forget that.

Like yesterday when I was teaching the lesson during primary. We were talking about feeding the Lord's sheep and the manual said to share a story about a time you helped someone learn more about the gospel. I chose a story from my past—when I was I around my class's age. I was taking gymnastics and I didn't live in Utah so my brother and I were among the only members of our religion in the gymnastics class. My coach had noticed that we were a little different from the other children—we were quicker to obey, we used clean language, we had good attitudes, etc—and wondered why we were the way we were.

My coach was expecting a baby and, since she wasn't married, she was nervous about how she was going to raise this baby on her own.

"Wait, wait, wait!" A boy's hand shot into the air. "You can have a baby when you're not married?"

Oh, dear.

"Well, you can," I told him, "But it's best if you get married first and have children later."

"But I thought you couldn't have children unless you were married, too!" agreed another child.

Prove me wrong, ten-year-olds. I dare you.

"Well, you're not supposed to have children until after you're married but it is possible to have a baby before. It's just not the best thing to do."

" can?!"

Another girl then piped up, "Yeah. It can happen, honey."

"But how does that even work?" someone asked. "Where do babies even come from, anyway?"

Yikes, yikes, yikes!

"This is not a conversation we're going to have right now, but you can go ahead and ask your parents about it later. The point of the story is that she was searching for a good way to raise her daughter and she found the gospel because of the example my brother and I had set when we were right around your age."

If I had known that including the detail that my coach was an unwed mother would have opened this can of worms I would have left that part out. Especially if I had known that 4 out of every 5 ten-year-olds in my class apparently don't know where babies come from. I knew by age eight.

Andrew said that during his "maturation program" in school they never mentioned a thing about how babies are made. The only people I could confirm this with was Uncle Patrick, who also went through the public education maturation program. He said they mostly discussed hygiene, as in, "now that you're older you're going to be stinky and sweaty so wear deodorant." My mom was like, "And they have an opt-out option for this unit?! What are they opting out of?"

Both Andrew and Patrick said they were not taught in school about babies, per se, until health class in (get this!) grade ten. Grade ten?! Wha'?

I'm all for parents telling children about the birds and the bees. I think that's what the whole opt-out thing is for—parents wanting to tell their kids what they want their kids to know without the interference or influence of other adults. And I think that's fine...except that I wonder if the parents really are telling their children much of anything. It seems to be some big secret.

By age nine I knew all about the birds and the bees. By grade nine I also knew about varying methods of birth control, and was pretty sure that I was among a handful of people in my whole high school practicing abstinence, which, by the way, was preached as being the only way of preventing 100% of unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Experimentation was not encouraged; it was actually discouraged. But at least we talked about prevention for those who were experimenting.

Anyway, here in Utah they seem to avoid the whole topic altogether. I may have accidentally jump-started a few conversations between parents and their youth. Whoops.

That said, I got an email from a friend warning about the dangers of guns in the home. She had found her three-year-old not playing with her father's handgun—but it was on the floor beside her, fully loaded.

I had never thought of that as a possibility! We don't own a gun and I've never talked to Rachel about gun safety but I've been sending her over to her friends' houses willy-nilly, not even considering whether or not her friends' parents might have guns. Many people here are frightfully enthusiastic about the second amendment—their right to keep and bear arms—so I'm betting there are several houses in the neighbourhood with firearms inside.

Getting this email spurred on a conversation about guns at the breakfast table this morning and how we never, ever (ever, ever, ever) touch them. And if our friend wants to play with a gun we run and get a grown up right away but we Don't. Touch. The gun.

So, I guess we're even. I prompted some conservatives to talk with their children about where babies come from and some conservatives prompted me to talk to my child about gun safety. Sounds fair.

1 comment:

  1. I'll confirm the "we don't talk about it" theory. In the girls' side of the maturation program we learned about how if you wear a pad nobody will be able to see it through your pants. Not what the pad was for, not why having your period was a big deal and CERTAINLY not where babies come from. I think it's unfortunate, but now that I have a kid I can see how it's a conversation easily avoided when parents feel awkward about it. *sigh*

    I'm glad you talked about guns too.