Oy. We were at the dinner table, discussing puberty (as you do). The six-year-old strongly expressed her desire never to “born a baby,” and said she never will, because there are pills that can keep you from getting pregnant. (We’ve discussed this particular issue before.) Then the older kid started listing other birth control methods. Like, really specifically, and with authority. I don’t have a problem with her knowing about these things, but I haven’t gotten to that level of detail with her, and I don’t think it’s in any of her books. So I asked where she learned all that. I think it helped that I had more of an admiring tone than a worried or judgmental one.
So she told me about encountering a link to the “Murry” show after watching a Minecraft video, and being so shocked and disturbed by the title she felt compelled to watch it. And that led to watching a lot more. Once she described stories of tweens having group sex, 14-year-old prostitutes, and nine-year-olds smoking and drinking, I figured out which show she was talking about.
And actually, it led to a great discussion. As I told her, this is one of the reasons why we’ve told her not to go exploring on YouTube. Because I would rather that she learn about normal, healthy behavior before being exposed to what is really just a modern-day freak show. Maury is designed to shock and titillate, and provide fodder for that impulse we have to judge others. It’s pretty much the worst sex-ed material you could find outside of porn. But, I was pretty impressed at her ability to digest the information and process it into useful caveats about sex and drugs. Of course, she is also naturally cautious, thoughtful, and eager to please authority figures, so that probably helped. But her overall reaction was shock, and a passionate determination never to do things like that.
I think this important conversation was only possible due to two major factors:
- We mostly avoid punitive discipline. Not completely, but I do try to adhere to “connection before correction,” in an effort to keep my kids comfortable coming to me in situations that they worry might get them in trouble – whether that’s spilling something on the furniture, watching inappropriate videos, or (eventually) something bad or dangerous happening involving cars, alcohol, sex, or whatever.
- Before encountering these videos, my kid knew quite a bit about sex, from a loving, factual, normalized perspective. I strongly feel that the best way to approach sex education is to treat it like all other education – answer questions as they come up, in an honest and developmentally appropriate way. I found It’s So Amazing to be a wonderful resource, which I could use for visual reference as I shared information with my pre-literate children, and then as an age-appropriate resource to be used by reading age children on their own.
I believe that pretty much everyone’s kids are going to run across some puzzling, worrisome, or disturbing content before we would consider them ready to handle it. Having so much information at our fingertips makes it nigh inevitable. It’s worth thinking about how your parenting might not just limit the chances of such an occurrence, but also give your child space to ask for your help if it does happen. I feel like if I’d been a bit less connection-focused (I’ve been working on minimizing punishment lately), or if my kids didn’t already have a firm track record of me talking about squirm-inducing subjects in a matter-of-fact and open way, or if my daughter had had no context whatsoever in which to place the extreme spectacle she saw, she probably would have simply clammed up, hidden it from me, and worried about it on her own.