What Your Kids Need to Hear from You About Sex
View our feature on Sharon Maxwell's The Talk.
A groundbreaking resource to help jump start an ongoing discussion between parents and teens about sex and sexuality Internet chat rooms, boy/girl sleepovers, reality TV . . . there’s more to “the talk” than ever before. Faced with a culture that pushes our kids to be “sexy” before puberty begins, how do we explain the power of sexuality in a way that promotes healthy, age-appropriate behavior?
Who I Am and What This Books Is About
An incident on a school playground changed my career and how I understood my job as a mother. Someone else was teaching my seven-year-old about sex, and I wanted it to be me.
As a clinical psychologist for more than ten years I had specialized in and loved working with adolescents and families, but my first job and great passion was mothering. Doing my part in raising the next generation of human beings, providing them with an environment that nurtured whatever unique contribution they would make to the world, defined and continues to define my life. Perhaps itís because I waited so long to have children, or because it almost didnít happen. For whatever reason, like so many parents before me, life acquired meaning and purpose beyond anything I had ever known when I became a mom.
Most of us who take on the job of parenting have a moment in time when we realize that despite our most diligent efforts, our children will be profoundly influenced by factors outside of our control. It might be the first time we put them on the school bus, listen to their sadness and confusion at being rejected by another child, or are taken aback by something they say that we know they didnít learn at home. There is a moment of shock as we realize that our childrenís understanding of the world and of themselves will be fashioned by experiences outside of our control, that our influence is limited and will continue to diminish with every passing year. Logically we understand that this is as it should be, yet we canít help but question whether we have sufficiently prepared them for the world they will encounter.
That moment with my son made it clear to me. When it came to issues of sexuality, not only had I not prepared my son and daughter for a world that was constantly selling sex in a manner that was far from inspiring, but I had not really thought through where I stood with regard to sexuality or how I would want them to understand this important part of their development.
In my private practice I see the impact of the media on teensí sexual attitudes, as well as how unaware most parents are when it comes to understanding how kids are thinking about sex. If I were going to adequately prepare my own children for adolescence I needed to figure out where I stood with regard to sexuality and develop a language to begin that conversation now. My daughter was nine, my son seven.
Already a lecturer on issues of parenting, I began to develop parent workshops on healthy ways of discussing sex with kids. These talks developed into a series of articles for a parenting magazine that led to a national Parenting Publications of America award. The curriculum director for a public school system asked me to develop a sex education curriculum for fifth graders. What a gift that was! I was able to really look at how schools talk to our kids about sex and I found a great deal missing.
Helping kids see how the media influences their understanding of sexuality was missing, a critical oversight in a day and age where most kids learn about how to act sexually from the media. No one was talking to kids about the value of self-discipline: developing the internal muscle to say no to something that feels good is an essential tool in becoming a responsible sexual person. Most importantly, the parents were missing. While schools give information, parents set ethical guidelines for behavior. When it comes to sex, both are needed.
My passion turned to developing a curriculum that gave kids information about sex and included issues like media manipulation of sexual desire and the importance of developing the muscle of self-discipline. Most important, it included parents by showing them how to think through their values with regard to sexuality so that they could continue the conversation at home. Working directly with kids in the classroom as well as with parents and health teachers has been invaluable in continually making this work relevant to the day-to-day realities of families.
As this curriculum became recognized I got calls from religious institutions. Rabbis, priests, and ministers from both conservative and liberal denominations were interested in using my approach to sexuality to address parents and teens in their communities. Each opportunity Iíve had to work with a religious leader has profoundly enriched my understanding of sexuality. Our discussions have enhanced my ability to talk about sex in a way that inspired interest in understanding the responsibility we have to use our sexuality in an ethical way.
As I spoke with more and more parents, it became clear that technology and the clash of cultural and family values presented unique challenges for moms and dads of children of all ages. Parents of younger children are looking for ways to set reasonable guidelines for all forms of media; parents of older children are concerned with how the Internet impacts their kidsí sexual development; mothers want workshops that address issues specific to empowering girls as they navigate the challenges of adolescence.
Each of these interest has turned into workshops, articles, and, ultimately, the chapters of this book.
I have a great suspicion of parenting books. Too often I see parents give up their common sense attempting to try something some ìexpertî says is the right thing to do. Donít use this book that way! Each of you knows more about sex than I could ever tell you. You have that amazing love for your child that will guide you to say the right thing, at the right time. Let the ideas in this book stir up your thinking about sex, about our culture, and about what you want for your child. Talk to your partner or friends. Form a parenting group at your childís school, church, or synagogue. I would love to hear from you and know what works and what doesnít.
It is a great gift to be able to turn oneís passion into oneís work. My passion comes from wanting to be the best mother I can be. I am incredibly grateful to be able to use my education and professional experience to turn that passion into an offering for families.
Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D“This is an excellent book for parents on how to talk to their children about sex. Dr. Maxwell gives practical guidance on sharing values with their children. Her focus on teaching self-discipline and developing self-control is a refreshing counterpoint to a pop culture that says we should have it all right now. I highly recommend The Talk to every parent.”
—Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, Professor of Psychiatry and Faculty Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Harvard Medical School and Director of the Media Center of the Judge Baker Children's Center
“Dr. Maxwell brings to this issue a wealth of experience and insight. When working with our synagogue teens and parents her approach was honest, yet sensitive, blunt, yet caring. As an observer of the society around her she shows both keen interest and perspicacity. Teens and parents would be well advised to take to heart her message of sexual responsibility and awareness to combat the complicated, often contradictory, messages of our society.”
--Rabbi Starr, Temple Israel - Sharon, MA
"The mere thought of talking to their children about sex turns the average parent's thoughts to mush, drains the saliva completely from their mouths, and makes them nearly faint dead away. These are otherwise professionally competent and highly articulate adults we are talking about, mind you. But we cannot escape the fact that we parents are precisely the ones primarily responsible for shaping our children's beliefs and character and giving them sane and trustworthy guidance in the navigation of this techno-erotic culture of ours. Here is where Sharon Maxwell helps us, thankfully. This book will not give you pat answers, but it will give you a thoroughly complete picture of today's cultural landscape, together with a well rounded discussion of the nuances surrounding this issue. I wish I'd had this guide when my own son was younger - it would have given me useful tools, information and perspective, and also reduced my stammering! I enthusiastically commend this book to you, and wish you great success in this most important task of parenthood."
--Pastor Jim Pocock, Trinitarian Congregational Church - Wayland, MA
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